The head of Dairon Asprilla delivered the goods.

Peeling toward the back post to meet the service of Santiago Moreno, the Colombian winger headed the ball back across net and past the flailing arms of a helpless JT Marcinkowski.

Twenty minutes later, the Timbers breathed a sigh of relief as the final whistle blew on their 2-1 victory against the San Jose Earthquakes. While not a “must-win” match by definition, three points at Providence Park – the 25,218-capacity venue they want to act as a fortress – are crucial as the race for the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs heats up.

A key second half performance

“In the second half we were a better team,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said after the match. “We pressed [San Jose] higher, we defended well and in the few moments they found something, \[Aljaz\] Ivacic was excellent to make sure he made the saves he needed to.”

The Timbers’ second-half performance Savarese complimented after Saturday night’s match followed a first half in which the club’s desperation for all three points grew more palpable. San Jose struck first late in the opening 45 minutes to complete a disastrous four-minute sequence in which three Portland players received yellow cards before conceding the goal.

Finally, the hosts broke through in the 53rd minute when Diego Chara’s shot deflected off the right hip of Jaroslaw Niezgoda and flew past Marcinkowski, who was down seconds before the ball hit the back of the net.

The goal sparked the Timbers to life and in the minutes following they generated a few more dangerous opportunities with quick, combination passing and aggressive runs. Then, in the 71st minute the head of Asprilla put Portland on top for good.

“We changed our mentality in the second half,” Diego Chará said. “We were more aggressive in some areas on the field and that made the difference.”

Second straight come-from-behind result

After settling for a 1-1 come-from-behind draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Jul. 17, the Timbers once again displayed their mettle against San Jose – this time, though, they completed the comeback to take all three points. While a sign of resilience, the club realizes it can’t afford to put itself in that position in the first place.

“When the opposition scores a goal, then you have to make sure you rebound quickly,” Savarese said. “In that moment you see the real character of a team. Today we showed very good character to come back into this game, but we also have to work to make sure we don’t put ourselves in that situation."

So, when Asprilla did his trademark back flip and Providence Park erupted in jubilation, one could almost feel the club’s sense of relief. It wasn’t always pretty – at times it was even chaotic – but the Timbers left their home ground with what they sought: a seventh-straight result to temporarily climb above the playoff line.

“Once you start getting good results, the belief grows,” Savarese said. “The unity is there and the understanding that every game is going to be tough, no matter who we play in MLS, home or away. We have to put a lot of work into it if we want to get the three points and we did today.”