Portland finished with a flourish, gaining momentum for ahead of the team’s first MLS playoff appearance with a comprehensive 5-0 win late Saturday over Chivas USA.
With the win, the Timbers claimed the Major League Soccer’s regular season Western Conference crown – and the conference’s best chance to host MLS Cup.
Diego Valeri (pictured from Saturday), apparently healthy again after recent injury struggles, led the way with two goals and an assist. More impressively, all of his good work at the StubHub Center came before the break. Valeri figured into all three goals as the visitors, pressing high and aggressively against Chivas USA, took a 3-0 lead into the break.
Timbers manager Caleb Porter elected to subtract his playmaking midfielder at intermission, saving him for the Timbers conference semifinal playoff series, which will begin on the road Saturday or Sunday. Portland will host the second leg on the following weekend.
It seems unlikely that Valeri did enough to make a compelling league MVP case; a little breeze of chatter was growing before Valeri missed time down the stretch due to an adductor strain. If Chicago gets into the playoffs, Mike Magee is probably a shoe-in for the award. Plus, Robbie Keane, Marco Di Vaio and Camilo have good cases, too. But Valeri certainly put other playoff teams on notice.
As for the club’s showy turnaround: Portland improved by six wins and 23 total points over its 2012 finish, but the most meaningful turnabout was in regular season positioning. The Timbers finished eighth last year, three spots out of the playoffs. This year, the club from the Rose City finished atop the West.