WASHINGTON, Dec 7, (AFP): Portland’s Diego Valeri and Rodney Wallace scored in the first seven minutes and the Timbers defeated host Columbus 2-1 Sunday to win the Major League Soccer Cup playoff final.
It was the first time the Timbers had lifted the champion’s trophy, denying Columbus a second MLS title after their breakthrough in 2008.
“This is special for us,” said Valeri, who was named the match’s Most Valuable Player. “I’m really thankful. I’m happy for myself and my teammates.”
In only their fifth MLS season, the Timbers became just the third expansion club to win the crown, after the Chicago Fire in 1998 and Real Salt Lake in 2009. It was the city’s first pro sports crown since the 1977 NBA Trail Blazers.
A blunder from Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark gave Portland the fastest goal in MLS championship match history, the Timbers jumping ahead 1-0 on Valeri’s goal after only 27 seconds.
Columbus played the ball back to Clark and the American kicked it to his left, away from onrushing attacker Valeri, to set up a long clearing blast.
But the 29-year-old Argentine striker, who missed the start of the season after suffering a left knee injury at the end of last season, timed a slide perfectly and blocked the kick, the ball rolling into the unguarded net as Clark watched helplessly.
“We were trying to press from the first minute and we got that goal,” Valeri said. “It was special.” Portland doubled the margin to 2-0 in the seventh minute on a diving header by Costa Rican forward Wallace.
The play began when Liberian midfielder Darlington Nagbe kept the ball from going out of bounds at the sideline. He sent the ball to Argentine forward Lucas Milano, whose pinpoint centering pass was nodded into the goal.
The Crew, which had allowed only three goals in four prior playoff matches, answered in the 18th minute thanks to Sierra Leone striker Kei Kamara, who had been questionable for the match after an ankle injury in Saturday’s final practice.
Portland’s Norwegian netminder, Adam Kwarasey, botched a catch of a centering pass and the ball was twice kicked out of his reach before Kamara ended the scramble in front of the goal by blasting the ball home.
In the second half, Columbus held off Portland with some help from the woodwork. The ball deflected off the crossbar, struck crew defender Michael Parkhurst in the captain’s armband without a handball call, and then deflected off the right post before Parkhurst cleared it off the line.
In the 71st minute, Portland’s Fanendo Adi nodded the ball off the right post and Clark’s chest, the Nigerian’s rebound bouncing over the backline for a Portland corner kick.
In the 81st minute, Portland’s Nat Borches headed a shot from point-blank range but Clark made the grab to keep the Crew in the hunt.
A final free kick into the penalty area by Columbus went untouched and the closing whistle came moments later, touching off a celebration by the Timbers.
“The way we shut down that second half defensively (was great),” Timbers coach Caleb Porter said. “We’ve taken some grief for playing defensively but a couple years ago I wouldn’t have been able to put the team out there and close the game out to win. And it’s about winning.”