The Portland Timbers got three key points on the road, coming away from Wednesday's match against Real Salt Lake with a 1-0 win thanks to a penalty kick won by Lucas Melano and converted by Fanendo Adi. A wide open start to the match and a frantic finish saw the Timbers grind out their sixth road win of the year as they moved back above the dreaded red line.
Running out a single pivot midfield for the first time since 2012, the Timbers found themselves under early pressure, but soon got into the swing of things and began to assert themselves on the game.
With Diego Chara as the team's holding midfielder, the Timbers relied on strong individual performances and help from Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe, positioned as the team's advanced central midfielders, to shut down RSL and after the initial shakes it worked, freeing up Rodney Wallace, Adi, and Melano to cause havoc all across the Salt Lake back line.
The gambit started to pay off as the first half wore on and the Timbers began to rack up the chances, particularly as Valeri drifted out wide on the right where he was able to swing in a series of pinpoint crosses, finally connecting with Adi in the ??the minute. Hitting a low cross for the near post, Valeri found the foot of Adi, who sent the ball low and at the near post from only feet away, but as always Nick Rimando was there to make the save, keeping the Timbers off the board.
Valeri and Adi again linked up later in the half when Valeri was able to kick a leg out and intercept an RSL pass, knocking the ball into Adi's path as he ran behind the Real back line. With Nick Rimando well off his line, Adi his a hard shot, but put it right at Rimando who again made the save to preserve the RSL clean sheet.
The Timbers' attack paid off in the 52nd minute, when Melano streaked in behind the RSL defense and found himself in on goal. With the RSL center backs hot on his heels, Melano hit the edge of the box, felt contact, and went down, causing referee Juan Guzman to point to the spot and give the offending party, Jamison Olave, his marching orders.
After two minutes of complaints to the officials from Real, it was Adi who stepped up to the spot for the Timbers. With a short run up, Adi sent Rimando -- one of the best penalty kick saving keepers in MLS -- the wrong way and simply passed home his effort to give the Timbers the lead and increase his season scoring total to thirteen goals through 31 games.
Now down a man and down a goal, RSL began to step up the pressure on the Timbers, throwing attack after attack forward and squelching any attempt from the Timbers at prolonged periods of possession.
Although the Timbers had several breaks down the pitch, they were not able to grab a second goal as RSL frantically tried to salvage their hopes of making the playoffs and, late in the match, it was RSL who looked like the team most likely to get the game's second goal. The moment nearly came when Javier Morales got on the ball inside the Timbers' box and turned to fire a quick shot on goal. A Timbers' defender was able to get a lunging block on the ball, but it only served to wrong foot Adam Kwarasey. The Timbers' keeper was not out of it there, however, and managed a sweeping save with his trailing hand to to block the ball away just as it looked like it would curl around him and even up the score.
The Timbers are now on 47 points and are in sixth place behind the Seattle Sounders in 5th only thanks to the "games won" tiebreaker. The Timbers next match is this Sunday against the 2nd place LA Galaxy at the StubHub Center.