On the verge of elimination in the shootout of the knockout round against Sporting Kansas City, the Portland Timbers are a month later headed to MLS Cup for the first time thanks to their Western
Conference title that they wrapped up with a 2-2 tie Sunday that gave them a 5-3 aggregate win over FC Dallas. An attack that sputtered for most of the season came to life in the playoffs as eight
different players scored the nine Portland goals.
1. Adi catches
fire at the right time.
The Timbers scored just 41 goals in 34 games in the regular season, the least of any team in the playoffs, but they lead all teams in the playoffs with nine
goals, seven in the last three games.
Fanendo Adi finished up the regular season with six goals in his last five games to give him a team-high 16 goals and is the only Timber with
two goals in the playoffs. He has become a dominating force in the playoffs, matched only by Kei Kamara of Columbus among target men.
Such was Adi's dominance in Game 1 that FC
Dallas coach Oscar Pareja made a lineup switch, dropping veteran Zach Loyd for the taller Walker Zimmerman, but that made no difference as on the game's key play Adi left
Zimmerman on the ground -- Zimmerman and Pareja insisted it was a foul -- and in perfect position to put away a pass from Diego Valeri in the 54th minute and open up a three-goal lead for
2. Melano matches Asprilla on golazo scale.
The first MLS seasons for 23-year-old Colombian Dairon Asprilla and 22-year-old Argentina Lucas
Melano were a struggle. Asprilla arrived in preseason but made only 10 starts, scoring just one goal. Melano arrived in July on a reported $5 million transfer fee, one of the biggest in MLS
history, but he too managed to score only one goal in the regular season.
Melano started the first two games of the playoffs before giving way to Asprilla for the second leg of the
Vancouver series at B.C. Place. They started for the first time together in Portland for the 3-1 win over FC Dallas in the first leg when Rodney Wallace was suspended.
been the more influential player, scoring on a twisting shot that fooled FC Dallas keeper Jesse Gonzalez in Game 1 and starting the play that led to Adi's goal in Game 2. He has given Portland
width in its attack that has allowed Darlington Nagbe to play a more central role and share the playmaking duties with Valeri.
But Melano matched Asprilla with one of the best
goals of the playoffs to seal the series win over FC Dallas when he took a backheel pass from Valeri on the right wing, faked out Gonzalez and put enough spin on the ball to stuff it into the goal
from no angle.
3. FC Dallas is at a crossroads.
FC Dallas fell behind by three goals on aggregate in the Western Conference final on Adi's goal, but almost made it all
the way back to even as Mauro Diaz set up Ryan Hollingshead and Blas Perez for goals five minutes apart and shortly before Melano's goal in stoppage time Nat Borchers dived to put
his foot in front of a close-range shot by Perez that could have tied the series.
No other team in MLS has more players who have value on the international transfer market, and deciding
whether to keep Gonzalez, Diaz and Fabian Castillo will be a top priority as the FCD staff looks ahead at 2016. Castillo and Matt Hedges were 2015 Best XI picks, the first for FCD since
2011, but the Colombian winger was not a factor in the Western Conference.
If FC Dallas sells Castillo, it could use some of the transfer fee it's allocated to acquire a center forward.
Perez will be 35 in March, while Uruguayan David Texeira has just 10 goals in two seasons since moving from Dutch club FC Groningen.
TRIVIA. Portland is just the third expansion team to reach MLS Cup. Real Salt Lake first did it in 2009, in its fifth season, like the Timbers. The Chicago Fire won the title in 1998,
its first season in the league. Eight other expansion teams have yet to play in the final.