A rocket strike from Diego Valeri kept the Portland Timbers in the hunt for a playoff berth in a 1-0 win over visiting Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
The victory puts the Timbers two points behind seventh-place Minnesota United for the final Western Conference playoff spot. Within the ultra-congested West, the Timbers are also just three points out of a three-team tie for third place between Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas, and the Seattle Sounders.
Real Salt Lake lost for just the third time (7-3-2) over their last 12 matches, and dropped to 3-8-3 in road games this season.
In the 16th minute, the Timbers halted a Salt Lake clearance attempt and kept possession in RSL's half of the field. The end result was Valeri blasting a shot from just beyond the penalty arc for the Portland captain's eighth goal of the season. Valeri has scored in consecutive games.
Valeri's big strike represented one of the few bursts of offensive quality for either team in a choppy game that was frequently halted for injuries, fouls, and other stoppages.
The lack of flow kept RSL (13-11-4, 43 points) from establishing much attacking momentum, despite having 60 percent of the possession. Salt Lake fired six shots on goal but couldn't beat Portland goalkeeper Steve Clark, who earned his fifth clean sheet of the season.
Portland (12-11-4, 40 points) was a man short in defending the play, as Renzo Zambrano was issued a straight red card for accidentally bumping the referee while arguing the free kick call. Zambrano will be suspended for the Timbers' next game, Sept. 7 against Sporting Kansas City.
Rimando turned aside a Fernandez shot after a Salt Lake giveaway in the 29th minute, and then blocked a bad-angle header from Fernandez in the 72nd minute that came from just inside the 6-yard box.