MLS Cup Takeaways: Timbers strike early, dominate late

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.

Here are three takeaways from MLS Cup 2015:

1. Timbers started quickly, Crew didn't react.

You'd have to go back to Pele's last game -- in Portland -- and Steve Hunt's robbery of Tony Chursky for the Cosmos against the Seattle Sounders in Soccer Bowl 1977 to find a similar goal in an American final like the goal Diego Valeri scored after 29 seconds.

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 yards out.

“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.”

3. Portland 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.

December 6 in Columbus, Ohio
Columbus 1 Portland 2. Goals: Kamara (Higuain) 18; Valeri 1, Wallace (Melano, Nagbe) 7.
Columbus -- Clark, Afful, Parkhurst, Sauro, Francis, Tchani (McInerney 72), Trapp, Higuain, Finlay (Cedrick 63), Meram (Saeid 79), Kamara.
Portland -- Kwarasey, Powell, Borchers, Ridgewell, Villafana, Chara, Nagbe, Valeri, Wallace, Adi (Urruti 90+), Melano (Asprilla 59).
Yellow Cards: Columbus -- Afful 34, Saeid 90+3; Portland -- Powell 65, Valeri 90+3.
Referee: Jair Marrufo.
Att.: 21,747.
7 comments about "MLS Cup Takeaways: Timbers strike early, dominate late".
  1. beautiful game, December 7, 2015 at 11:17 a.m.

    Two monumental howlers by both keepers. Two monumental howlers by the Ars. It was an end to end game with typical unforced MLS turnovers. Melano showed that he is worthless and Powell showed incompetence coming out of the back with the ball to start counters. Garber needs to get rid of Walton and name an American Director of Referees. That should be his #1 priority and this game validates it more than ever.

  2. John Soares, December 7, 2015 at 2:02 p.m.

    I thought it was an OK game. Quick and entertaining. Unfortunately, two (not mistakes) but absolute blunders by the goalkeepers and a couple non calls by the refereeing crew became the highlights of the game. Never a good thing in any game. Terrible in a championship/final. However, congratulations Timbers. After a just average season they peaked at he right time and are the champions.

  3. Ric Fonseca, December 7, 2015 at 5:05 p.m.

    I completely agree with both I w and John Soares! Now let's see if Garber and company get rid of Walton and revamps the entire referee program, though I'd wager that nothing will be done and Walton will get a contract extension!

  4. beautiful game, December 7, 2015 at 5:19 p.m.

    RF, no doubt about it, Walton can't go because Garber selected him. That would look bad.

  5. John Soares, December 7, 2015 at 7:27 p.m.

    IF in fact Walton is the problem. He needs to go. Under the "we all make mistakes" Garber would be doing everyone, himself included a favor. MR Gardner, someone I don't always agree with, has an excellent commentary on the game and referee.

  6. Gus Keri, December 7, 2015 at 10:10 p.m.

    The last time I checked, Walton was not on the field refereeing the game. Let's be realistic. American refereeing is bad. Look at the two American referees at the Gold Cup who gifted Mexico two underserved wins. I don't think Walton had any thing to do with it.

  7. beautiful game, December 9, 2015 at 1:32 p.m.

    Gus, Walton doesn't have to be on the field, it's his directorate for his crew of referees to swallow the whistle and keep the game moving. There is no consistency in MLS refereeing except to enable rugby style tactics.

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications