When the Portland Timbers just about had to have it, Diego Valeri delivered once again.
The Argentine midfielder struck for his second straight game-winner Sunday night in Portland’s 3-2 victory over the Montreal Impact. His 82nd-minte blast, which broke a 2-2 deadlock at Stade Saputo, came on the heels of his late winner last weekend in the Timbers’ 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids. The win represents one more step in the right direction of the Timbers’ MLS Cup Playoff push after a sluggish start to the 2014 season.
“This team – they’ve been through a lot this year, and we never quit and we’ve kept fighting and grinding,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said. “Because of what we’ve been through, we are one of the most mentally tough teams in MLS right now because we’ve had to do it the hard way.”
It certainly wasn’t easy for the Timbers, despite facing a team that came into the game with MLS’ worst record and on their third game in eight days. The west-coast visitors faced an early deficit behind an Andres Romero goal in the 13th minute.
And then even after they took the lead after a Maximiliano Urruti goal in the 34th minute and a Will Johnson penalty kick in the 40th minute, the Timbers were forced to fight for full points following a Maxim Tissot equalizer right before halftime.
“I think you saw that in the second half, when in a football game the margin between winning and losing is very slim, we found another level, another gear,” Porter said. “I think our belief, our toughness and our grit is what pushed us through.”
The victory brings Portland to within one point of the fifth and final Western Conference playoff spot, currently occupied by the Vancouver Whitecaps. It’s Portland’s second straight victory following a four-game winless streak.
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“I thought overall, even in the first half when we gave up two goals, I thought we were the better team; we were controlling the game,” Porter said. “[Montreal] were opportunistic – give Montreal credit, they scored two goals on three chances. Montreal’s got some good players. We did not take them lightly. We were not thinking about their position in the table, their record because if you look at some of their players, they’re dangerous.”
Valeri’s goal comes as somewhat of a savior considering Porter’s words indicating he’d push for a victory, even if it meant conceding a loss in the non-conference matchup. Deadlocked at 2-2, the Timbers were the beneficiary of a cross by second-half substitute Rodney Wallace that was deflected by former Timbers center back Futty Danso right to Valeri. The Argentine playmaker made no mistake on a right-footed blast that was no match for Montreal goalkeeper Evan Bush.
“For us, this was three points or bust,” Porter said. “It’s one of those games where you’re not playing a conference team where it’s a six-point swing, where you try to win those games, but if it looks like you can’t win, then you don’t lose because at least you hold the points. We’re going to gamble in these non-conference games, even if it means risking a loss. We’re going to go for it.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.