PORTLAND — With plenty to be gained on Wednesday, the Portland Timbers produced an energized first-half effort worthy of the potential reward.
More satisfying, perhaps, was a smart second half that protected a lead and added up to a 1-0 win over Chivas USA on Wednesday as another sellout crowd of 18,627 watched at Jeld-Wen Field. The triumph puts Portland in the thick of the Major League Soccer playoff battle.
Portland (9-12-5, 32 points) inched in front of Chivas (8-9-10, 31 points). Among the teams in the mix for wild-card playoff berths is D.C. United, who the Timbers visit on Saturday.
Eric Brunner scored from a corner kick in the 44th minute, rewarding the Timbers for a busy first half that kept Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy hopping.
As the second half moved along, the Timbers assumed a more defensive posture to counter Chivas throwing extra players into the attack.
The Timbers dodged a few threats, most notably a doorstep opportunity in stoppage time that skittered off the foot of Laurent Courtois with the goal mouth yawning in his face.
“You make your own luck in this game,” said Portland goalkeeper Troy Perkins, who made two saves in the shutout. “I thought we deserved it all night. We fought hard and gave it everything we had.”
For a Timbers team that has given away a series of late goals in this inaugural season, perhaps that bit of fortune was deserved. Portland outshot Chivas 20-12, and until it sagged into a protective posture, the home team dictated the tempo of play.
“We’re starting to find out who we are,” Timbers defender David Horst said. “The big-time players are stepping up in the last 25 minutes now. The team is doing a good job as a defensive unit coming together and not letting in those last-minute goals anymore. I think it’s going to translate well for the rest of the season.”
Chivas’ Kennedy had a busy first half, disrupting several promising scoring chances for the Timbers. His effort included a spectacular diving save on a Horst header from 6 yards out. Kennedy also came to near the top of the penalty area to deny several Portland counter-attack chances. The one ball Kennedy couldn’t do anything about was a header in the 44th minute from Brunner. Running left to right across the penalty area, Brunner struck a sharp header off a Mike Chabala corner kick.
A dash from the defensive side of the mid-line by Sal Zizzo helped set up Brunner’s goal. Zizzo’s sprint neared the top of the 18-yard box before he was fouled. Chivas deflected Lovel Palmer’s free kick out of bounds for the corner kick that Chabala served to Brunner.
Portland goalkeeper Troy Perkins made a pair of leaping fingertip saves in the first half to deny Courtois in the 17th minute and Simon Elliott on a free kick in first-half stoppage time.
Kennedy’s acrobatics included a diving save on a distanced shot from Kalif Alhassan in the 62nd minute. In the 74th minute, a shot from Diego Chara got past Kennedy but rolled outside the left post.
But no second goal would be needed, and the Timbers earned a critical three points to boost their playoff prospects.
• Midfielder Eric Alexander made his Portland debut in the 71st minute, replacing Kenny Cooper. Alexander came to Portland a week ago in a trade that sent Jeremy Hall to FC Dallas.
• The Timbers leave early Thursday morning for Washington D.C., where they conclude their hyper-busy stretch on Saturday against another playoff contender, D.C. United.
• Forward Juan Pablo Angel, who came to Chivas from the Los Angeles Galaxy in a trade last week, did not travel to Portland.
• This was Chivas’ fifth consecutive road match.
• Timbers lineup — GK Troy Perkins, D Lovel Palmer, D Eric Brunner, D David Horst, D Mike Chabala, M Kalif Alhassan (Rodney Wallace, 83rd), M Diego Chara, M Jack Jewsbury, M Sal Zizzo (Darlington Nagbe, 79th), F Kenny Cooper (Eric Alexander, 71st), F Jorge Perlaza.