Brian Fernandez scored his team-leading ninth and 10th goals of the season, and the Portland Timbers picked up an important 3-2 win over the visiting Chicago Fire on Wednesday night.
Fernandez raised his goal total across all competitions to 14, accomplished in the three months since he's been with the Timbers. Portland (11-9-4, 37 points) has lost just once in the past nine league matches and surged into playoff position, seventh place in the Western Conference, passing FC Dallas on Wednesday.
The Fire (7-11-9, 30 points) came in having won two straight and were in need of a win to boost their slim playoff chances, but they fell despite scoring twice in the second half with a one-man disadvantage. Chicago is 10th in the Eastern Conference, three points from the last playoff position.
Jorge Moreira gave the Timbers a 1-0 lead in the 11th minute, chipping the ball over the defense and Fire goalkeeper David Ousted, who had come out to challenge a hustling Marvin Loria on the attack. Loria was upended, but the loose ball came to Moreira for the goal.
In the 21st minute, the Timbers struck again. A cross from 21-year-old midfielder Cristhian Paredes hit Fernandez in the legs, but Fernandez got enough ball to nudge it past Ousted.
The Timbers lost arguably their best defender when Larrys Mabiala went down with a leg injury and exited in the 35th minute.
The Fire made it 2-1 when Nemanja Nikolic headed in a loose ball off a set piece in the 74th minute. But Fernandez scored in the 88th, and the Timbers appeared headed for a comfortable victory.
The Timbers are undefeated in 10 all-time meetings with the Fire, producing five wins and five draws.