By MIKE DONOVAN
Portland headed into Saturday night’s matchup with Chivas USA, knowing a victory would clinch the top seed in the Western Conference. And the Timbers decided not to leave it to the last minute to seal their fate.
Diego Valeri notched two first-half goals and added an assist as Portland blew out the cellar-dwelling Chivas USA, 5-0, Saturday night at the StubHub Center. Rodney Wallace, Ryan Johnson, and Will Johnson chipped in goals as Portland finished the 2013 regular season with conference-best 57 points.
The first 45 minutes saw Valeri play the maestro as he put the Timbers ahead with a well-placed shot just 18 minutes into the match. Ten minutes later, Valeri masterfully chipped goalkeeper Tim Melia and the rout was on for Portland.
The Timbers finished the half in style when Valeri set up Rodney Wallace for the team’s third goal of the first 45 minutes. Subbed out at the halftime intermission, the Argentine Designated Player finished the regular season with ten goals and 13 assists. Valeri is the second player in MLS history to notch double-digit tallies in both assists and goals in his first season in league, joining Preki who turned the trick in the league’s inaugural season.
Despite Valeri coming off at the half, Portland was not finished with their onslaught as high pressure led to two second-half goals. The first saw a Ryan Johnson tap-in after Melia denied a Wallace effort and the second was a Will Johnson free kick that the captain had earned after being felled by Carlos Borja just outside the penalty area.
All-in-all, the performance was a comprehensive way to send Portland into the MLS postseason for the first time. Donovan Ricketts had four saves on the night and ran his season-total to a league-leading 14. The Timbers will enter the playoffs on an eight-match unbeaten streak, having conceded just three goals in that time.
While Portland is ascending into the playoffs, Chivas USA tanked at the end of the season, losing their final five matches by a score of 18-3. Head coach Jose Luis Real was so unimpressed with Goats play early in the match that he used all three of his available substitutions in the first half, despite no player being injured.
The Timbers will return to action next weekend to take on the winner of the Western Conference’s play-in match.