Portland loses, drops back in playoff chase

HARRISON, N.J. — Dane Richards just knew that a different, more determined New York Red Bulls took the field Saturday night in a must-win contest against the Portland Timbers.

Richards scored in the first half and Luke Rodgers converted a penalty kick in the second half to lead the Red Bulls to a 2-0 victory over the Timbers on Saturday night. New York (8-7-15) pulled into a tie for fourth place with Houston in the Eastern Conference with four matches to go.

"We came out with great energy from the start," Richards said. "After we lost Wednesday (3-1 to Real Salt Lake), we knew that we needed to give a good performance. It was important to get the early goal."

It was the first home win for New York since beating Toronto 5-0 on July 6.

Portland (10-13-7) dropped two points behind New York in the race for a wild card playoff berth. The loss snapped the Timbers' five-game unbeaten streak (3-0-2). However, Portland has not had any success on the road, falling to 1-9-4 away from home.

The Red Bulls played with an aggressive sense of urgency from the opening minutes, attacking the ball with authority and keeping the play in the Portland end of the field for most of the contest.

The Red Bulls played without standout defender Rafa Marquez, who was suspended for one game by head coach Hans Backe for criticizing his teammates after last Wednesday's loss to Real Salt Lake.

New York scored in the 20th minute, when Richards made a brilliant move up the left side after getting a pass from Joel Lindpere. Richards went past Portland midfielder Diego Chara and fired a shot to the low right corner of the goal that Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins never had a chance to stop. It was Richards' sixth goal of the season.

Portland had two incredible scoring chances in the 58th minute, hitting the crossbar on successive shots. First, Kalif Alhassan hit the crossbar with a hard right-footed shot, then the rebound attempt from Kenny Cooper bounced and hit the bar as well.

In the 66th minute, Alhassan was whistled for a hand ball in the penalty area, drawing an automatic ejection and enabling Rodgers to drill the penalty kick past Perkins for a 2-0 lead. It was Rodgers' eighth goal of the season.

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