Beating a rival is nice. Doing so when first place in the MLS Western Conference is on the line? That’s pretty special, and that’s exactly what the Portland Timbers did Sunday night under first-year head coach Caleb Porter.

“The fact [is] that over the last several years, whether I agree with it or not, we’ve been the little brother [to the Seattle Sounders],” Porter said about their Northwest neighbors. “The rivalry and what it means to our supporters, it makes us very pleased to know our fans leave the stadium with that joy.”

A self-proclaimed “goals-oriented” guy, Porter didn’t have a specific time frame for when he expected the Timbers to contend for the MLS Cup. Now, with two games left to play, Portland leads the loaded West. One of the reasons is the Timbers’ superstar-less offense has found a way to get multiple goals from a variety of sources, including MVP candidate Diego Valeri, captain Will Johnson, Rodney Wallace and Darlington Nagbe.

“To win games, you need guys who are going to step up in the final one-third,” Porter explained to JP Dellacamera on SiriusXM FC’s Counter Attack. “We’ve done it by committee in the attack […] which makes us, to some extent, unpredictable and tough to deal with and manage because we have different guys that can hurt you.”

(The Timbers are only the second team in MLS history to have four players score eight goals or more.)

Valeri, Portland’s designated player, has led the attack, compiling eight goals and 12 assists. According to Porter, he’s the true “No. 10” in his system.

“We need a guy that’s going to bring a bit of creativity and imagination,” Porter said. “A guy that kind of makes you go.”

The Timbers’ step forward hasn’t just been about the offense, though. In 2012, Portland allowed 56 goals; so far this season, the Timbers have conceded just 33, 14 of those coming in open play.

“When you have the ball a lot, it means they can’t attack,” Porter said. “When we don’t have the ball, we’re pressing, which forces teams away from our goal.”

With the playoffs nearing Porter has even adjusted his coaching to prepare the defense for what’s to come.

We’re playing good teams — Seattle, Real Salt Lake, the L.A. Galaxy — which means we’re going to have to defend on the low blocks some of the time. They’re going to have the ball and they’re going to be in the front half some, and you need to be mature and organized and compact defensively. We’re not naively trying to press for 90 straight minutes.

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