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.
"It's gone," said defender Tim Ream, who was the center of Marquez's critical comments. "There are no hard feelings. Come Tuesday, we'll pair up again and everything will be fine. With all the drama going on this week, we all wanted to step it up. I knew early on that it was past us. I think it was a big reason why we came out with so much passion tonight. We wanted to prove that nothing had lingered."
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.
"Joel actually set a nice pick for me," Richards said. "Once I beat the player (Chara), I knew it was a tough angle, but I got it to the far post."
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.
"Rodgers told me that he was 100 percent sure he was going to make it," Backe said.
Backe was impressed with the way his team performed under such duress.
"It was a must-win and I could see it in the players all week since the loss," he said. "They put in the hard work and played with a lot of energy. They had the right attitude from the beginning. I was really concerned coming in, more mentally than anything. It was about our season. You never know how players are going to react, so I was a little bit worried. But after the first 15 or 20 minutes, I knew we were in control of the game."
Backe did not comment on whether Marquez will be back in the lineup when the Red Bulls visit Toronto next Saturday
DYNAMO 1, FC DALLAS 0: At Frisco, Texas, Geoff Cameron scored in the 87th minute to lift the Houston Dynamo to a victory over FC Dallas. Houston (10-9-12) won on the road for the first time this season with a record of 1-6-9.
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