PORTLAND, Ore. – When Diego Valeri’s running header slammed off the crossbar in the 90th minute Wednesday, it appeared the Portland Timbers chances to make a deep run in the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League were fading, even just one game into the tournament.
Then the clearing attempt by a defender found its way back to Valeri.
“After the bad clearance by the defender I just wanted to put it between the [goalkeeper’s] legs because it was the only place where you could kick it,” Valeri said.
His effort trickled just inside the post and only far enough across the goal line to give the Timbers a 2-1 victory over El Salvador’s C.D. Dragón on Wednesday at Providence Park.
Valeri couldn’t remember scoring a goal like it before, but it brought home the mantra he kept repeating to teammates throughout an evening of missed chances for the Timbers.
“You always have to think [about] the next ball and the next ball,” Valeri said. It was how he reacted to a bundle of missed chances for his team.
“That’s the way it works in soccer. You’ve got to play until the last whistle.”
Because Valeri came through in the dying moments, the Timbers have Champions League life. Coach Caleb Porter said after the game that a draw would have put his team in a position where it likely needed to win all three of its remaining games.
“That would have been a tall order,” Porter said.
Missed chances and one defensive letdown had Portland staring at a damaging draw. But Porter said he wasn’t surprised by the way things unfolded. He said Dragón is no “slouch team” and by sitting deep and crowding their own 18-yard box, they managed to keep the score close.
Porter said he wasn’t concerned that the 18 shots, eight corner kicks, and 67 percent possession didn’t produce more goals.
“We’re playing well and getting chances. I always have faith that when you get chances eventually you’ll score,” Porter said. “I think every year we have this period, every team does, when the well dries up a little bit.”
"For me as a coach, you just have to continue to keep the team playing the way we’re playing and hope that the ball falls and that you finish better eventually."
Or maybe, as Valeri said and demonstrated, the answer is to focus on the next opportunity instead of dwelling on the missed chances.