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Stunning Diego Valeri rocket helps Portland Timbers bounce back against RSL

Meanwhile, Timbers fans continue to violate new MLS rules on political signs in a coordinated protest.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A beautiful long-range strike from Diego Valeri was the difference Saturday as the Portland Timbers rebounded from a pair of bad home results and beat an in-form Real Salt Lake.

The 1-0 win snapped a two-game losing streak for a Timbers side that needs to make the most of a continuing homestand to close out the season after playing their opening 12 games on the road. The Timbers lost their last two games at home after giving up early goals to Atlanta United and the Seattle Sounders.

But the Timbers scored first against RSL, and the Timbers have now gone 11-0-1 this season when scoring first. (When they concede first, they are 1-11-3.)

“Massive win because we worked for it,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said. “Very proud of the effort on the field. RSL is a good team and they brought some challenges today, but I thought we were strong and united.”

Savarese added with a smile: “Diego pulled a magic touch to get us the win with a great goal.”

In the 16th minute, Valeri got a pass from Andres Flores, dribbled to the arc above the penalty box and fired a low rocket past RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando.

“In soccer, if you score first, you have a big advantage to win the game,” Valeri said. “If you can do that, you have to manage the game with more calm. At some points, we did that — even without the ball, we were in good position to create chances.”

Brian Fernandez nearly doubled the Timbers’ lead on the 72nd minute. Valeri floated a ball into the box that Fernandez headed toward goal, forcing Rimando to make a quick goal-line parry.

At the tail end of the match, Renzo Zambrano from the Timbers was ejected for putting his hands on the referee and yelling at the official to dispute a foul called. That gave RSL a golden opportunity to equalize in the 98th minute with a free kick in the box that figured to be the game’s final play, but Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clark made a crucial diving stop.

“I’m thinking this: ‘[Expletive.] I hope he doesn’t score,’” Clark said of his thought process on the free kick. “Second of all, ‘I’m going to cover my post and make him beat me over the wall.’ You have to stay honest and accept a lot of guys move early and they get beat, so I stayed and I got paid for that.”

Portland still sits below the playoff line with just six home games left. They play on the road once more when they head to Kansas City at the end of September.

“We dropped some points we shouldn’t have dropped and now we’re a little bit playing catch up with the remaining home games,” forward Jeremy Ebobisse said. “Today was a big step. And as far as mentality, we didn’t give up any goals right after the half or right before the half, which we had done in previous games. We’ll build off the performance. It wasn’t pretty again, but anytime you get three points you look at what you did well and what you did poorly.”

A lingering question ahead of Saturday’s match was whether protests from the Timbers Army supporters group would continue after last week’s demonstration, where both Timbers and Seattle Sounders fans stayed silent for the first 33 minutes of the year’s biggest rivalry game. Merritt Paulson said he thought the protest hurt the Timbers’ home field advantage in their 2-1 loss to the Sounders. In the days after that protest, the Timbers Army said the club front office was listening to the fans’ concerns and, “We’re going to continue the conversation with the front office and the league.”

Against RSL, the Timbers Army did not stay silent, but they did again wait until the 33rd minute to fly multiple Iron Front flags, which the league has said are not allowed at games. Asked by reporters last week, the Timbers did not have comment on what would happen to fans defying the ban and flying Iron Front flags.

But an on-field worry Saturday for the Timbers was a thin bench: the Timbers had no defenders available as substitutes due a slew of injuries. Larrys Mabiala, Julio Cascante, Zarek Valentin and Modou Jadama are all out, and the Timbers have not given timelines for when any of the defenders will return.

Asked by Pro Soccer USA for specific timelines for the injured defenders, Savarese deflected.

“We’ll see during the week — hopefully a few,” Savarese said of who will be ready to return. “We have other guys ready to step in and we have our ideas to go through the emergency moment that we’re going through.”

With Cristhian Paredes injured and Zambrano serving a red card suspension, the Timbers may have limited backups at defensive midfield as well.

RSL came into Saturday with four wins in their previous five games. Their only loss in that stretch came at the hands of Los Angeles FC, a team that is on pace to set records as the best team in MLS history.

Freddy Juarez, who has taken over as RSL coach since Mike Petke was fired over an abusive outburst against referees earlier this month, said his side dominated in possession and chances, and deserved a better result from the game.

“I’m sad for them because when you go and put in an effort like that, you want them to come out winners with their heads held high,” he said. “They’ll go down naturally but I hope they realize it was good team effort.”

Saturday’s game was Kelyn Rowe’s first start for RSL. He was traded to Utah during the summer transfer window that closed in early August.

Up next, the Timbers host Sporting Kansas City on Sept. 7.

RSL returns to action on Sept. 11 when they host the San Jose Earthquakes.

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