PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Three weeks ago, Portland was out of sync, at a loss for answers, and slipping out of the playoff picture.
Now, the Timbers have a three-game winning streak, a home game in the playoffs and look like one of the hottest teams heading into the postseason.
Darlington Nagbe had his first multi-goal game of the season and added an assist to lead Portland to a 4-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night.
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The win, combined with other results around the league on the final day of the regular season, means Portland (15-11-8) finished third in the Western Conference with 53 points. The Timbers will host Sporting Kansas City on Thursday night in the first round of playoffs.
”These guys accomplished the first goal. It’s not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is a trophy,” Portland coach Caleb Porter. ”But the first goal is getting into the playoffs to win that trophy. So I’m real proud of these guys. The players deserve all the credit. All the credit.”
Colorado (9-15-10) finished last in the Western Conference with 37 points.
Portland opened the scoring in the fifth minute. After getting fouled 25 yards from goal, Nagbe dusted himself off and proceeded to bend a blistering free kick over the wall and past goalkeeper Zac MacMath for his fourth goal of the season.
With Diego Valeri, who usually takes free kicks, missing due to yellow card accumulation, Nagbe accepted the responsibility, much to the delight of Porter.
”He’s taken ownership. He’s stepped up,” said Porter. ”He’s not waiting for things to happen. He’s making them happen himself.”
Colorado tied it eight minutes later, when Dominique Badji’s shot deflected off of defender Liam Ridgewell, wrong-footing goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey and looping into the net. It was the second goal of the season for Badji.
The Timbers regained the lead in the 33rd minute. Lucas Melano’s cross from the right found Nagbe near the penalty spot, where the Portland forward ducked down to head a looping ball over MacMath and into the upper left corner of the goal.
Portland added to the lead in the 63rd minute, thanks again, in part, to Nagbe. Some close, precise passes around the Colorado penalty area led to Nagbe finding Jorge Villafana on the left side of the box. The left fullback’s rocket of a shot ricocheted off of Colorado defender Sean St. Ledger and into the net for Villafana’s first goal of the season.
Fanendo Adi capped the scoring in the 88th minute, using his chest to knock in a blistering Dairon Asprilla cross from the right wing. It was Adi’s team-leading 14th goal of the season.
For the Rapids, the offseason begins now and head coach Pablo Mastroeni is already thinking about what it will take to make the playoffs in 2016.
”I think our biggest issue that we have to address and get better at is scoring the goals and getting in the box and making plays and being brave,” said Mastroeni. ”For us it’s about wrapping our heads together as a technical staff and making sure that we want to keep bringing pieces in that are going to help fill that hole.”