The Portland Timbers won their first MLS championship when they downed the host Columbus Crew, 2-1, in a game that saw all three goals scored in the opening 18 minutes. Each in its own way was a
flawed goal and marked a game often played out of control. But slowly the Timbers took control -- "We were never in danger," said Portland coach Caleb Porter -- and were unlucky not to score
several more goals.
You'd never mistake Valeri's defensive work for that of a Steve Hunt, but the Argentine harassed Steve
Clark enough that the Crew keeper allowed the ball to get just enough away from him so he had no angle to get the ball past Valeri, who slid in to block Clark's clearance into the goal from six
“I think you could see a little bit of nerves," said Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter. "Steve gets hundreds of balls, thousands of balls played to him
during the course of the season and he rarely makes a mistake like that and you have to live with it. We support him and mistakes are part of the game. The start wasn’t good, the start was
certainly not good."
Things got worse for the Crew six minutes later as Portland was allowed to continue play on a ball that clearly had gone out of bounds. Tony Tchani thought the
ball was out of bounds -- it was, but no call was made -- and Darlington Nagbe stepped in, took off with the ball and found Lucas Melano, who fired in a perfect cross for
Rodney Wallace at the far post for a header than made it 2-0. Crew fans littered the field with debris to show their disgust with the call.
"I didn’t see it," said Berhalter. "I have absolutely no idea what happened. But
what I would say is in professional sports you play until either the ball is out of bounds or there’s a whistle and we have to keep playing." 2. Columbus never managed to
compose itself after trailing.
Columbus got back in the game when Portland keeper Adam Kwarasey gifted it a goal in the 18th minute. The Ghanaian failed to cleared the ball,
and Kei Kamara stuffed the ball into goal. As it turned out, it was the Crew's only shot on goal all game.
Federico Higuain had a good look later in the first half that he
put wide, but the Crew created almost nothing in the second half.
"There weren’t many clear-cut chances, that’s for sure," said Berhalter, "and give Portland a lot of credit.
The last time we played them it was a very similar game where we had a lot of the ball, controlled a lot of the game but it’s very difficult to create goal scoring chances and that’s the
strength of Portland."
But Berhalter admitted the Crew's wing play let it down and it never found its game after giving up the two quick goals.
"I think we could have been
more methodical getting the ball to the flanks and penetrating and getting crosses in," he said. "You’re down 2-0, you want to stick to the plan and it’s difficult sometimes. Overall I
think we could have moved the ball much quicker over to the wing area and got the ball in the box or looked to penetrate deep. We didn’t do that effectively.”
was in total control in the second half.
Portland sat back, absorbed the Crew's thrusts and countered.
"We were never in danger," said Portland coach Caleb Porter.
"We were comfortable, we were tight, and that’s what the game called for in the second half. We invited them forward. We could’ve been a bit better on the counters, and we had some good
moments to put the game away."
Several in fact. In the 60th minute, Michael Parkhurst cleared a Wallace shot off the line into his teammate, Kamara, whose attempted clearance went
off the crossbar, then Parkhurst's arm and finally the post. The woodwork saved the Crew again 10 minutes later when the excellent Jorge Villafana found Fanendo Adi, whose header
bounced off the far post and then off the startled Clark. Nat Borchers and Adi then had chances, but Clark made good stops.
While the Crew never managed to grab hold of the game,
Diego Chara, Valeri and Nagbe took control of the midfield, leaving no doubt who was the better team.
TRIVIA. The Timbers
became the third expansion team to win MLS Cup, joining the Chicago Fire (1998) and Real Salt Lake (2009). They all won the title in their first MLS Cup. No other team that joined MLS after its 1996
launch has played in the final.