Portland Timbers headed to MLS Cup as hosts

For the third time since 2015, the Portland Timbers are headed to MLS Cup.

This time, they'll get to host the league final.

Despite starting out the playoffs as the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference and No. 5 team in the overall standings, Portland claimed the hosting rights with a 2-0 win Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference final in front of a sold-out crowd of 25,218 fans at Providence Park on Saturday afternoon.

The Timbers will face the Philadelphia Union or NYCFC next Saturday in MLS Cup.

They were playing without injured star Sebastian Blanco and Dairon Asprilla, suspended after picking up a red card in the 1-0 victory at Colorado on Thanksgiving Day, but were still the better team, getting goals from Felipe Mora in the 5th minute and Santiago Moreno in the 61st minute.

Both goals involved deflections.

On Mora's goal, an attempted clearance by Real Salt Lake defender Aaron Herrera deflected off the Chilean and rolled perfectly into the corner of the goal past keeper David Ochoa.

Moreno, the 21-year-old Colombian signed in July as part of MLS's new U22 initiative, stole the show in just his fourth start with the Timbers, giving them a threat on the wing that they have often lacked. He gave Portland an insurance goal when his shot from distance bounced off the left post and then a sprawled Ochoa before landing in the goal.

Portland also reached MLS Cup in 2015, winning at Columbus, and 2018, losing at Atlanta United. The Timbers or their Cascadia rival Seattle Sounders have won every Western Conference championship over the last seven seasons.

In 2020, the Timbers won the MLS is Back Tournament but started to struggle after Blanco suffered a knee injury and lost to FC Dallas in the first round of the playoffs. In 2021, Portland's strong finish coincided with Blanco's insertion back into the starting lineup on a regular basis four days after the All-Star Game, a 3-0 win over Seattle. They finished fourth in the Western Conference after going 10-3-1 over their last 14 games.

Portland found itself in a position to host the Western Conference final when it beat the No. 1 seed Rapids and No. 2 Seattle and No. 3 Sporting KC were both upset by RSL. The top four teams in the Western Conference finished with more points than the No. 2 in the Eastern Conference, Philadelphia, so a chance to MLS Cup opened up when Supporters' Shield winner New England fell in a shootout to NYCFC on Tuesday night.

"The guys were able to turn things around," said Portland coach Giovanni Savarese, "and we host this game here. It was something that we wanted to have and it became a reality. But I think the most important thing is that the players understood the moment, and we knew we were playing against a difficult team and I felt we put a very strong performance tonight.”

Dec. 4 in Portland, Ore.
Portland 2 Real Salt Lake 0. Goals: Mora 5, Moreno (Zuparic) 61.
Portland -- Clark, Van Rankin, Mabiala, Zuparic, Bravo, Paredes (Fochive 90), D.Chara, Loria (Valeri 80), Y.Chara, Moreno (Bodily 90), Mora (Niezgoda 60).
Real Salt Lake -- Ochoa, Brody, Glad, Herrera, Silva, Ruiz, Kreilach, Rusnak, Besler (Menendez 71), Julio (Meram 58), Rubin (Wood 58).
Red Card: Real Salt Lake -- Herrera 79.
Att.: 25,218.

2 comments about "Portland Timbers headed to MLS Cup as hosts".
  1. Wayne Norris, December 5, 2021 at 1:27 p.m.

    Herrera had a horror show......absolutely lazy clearance attempt on first goal. Moment like that could cost player his job in some league! Second yellow was pretty harsh but need to be super careful when on yellow....

  2. Wayne Norris, December 5, 2021 at 1:28 p.m.

    Also, I thought a shot that goes in off post then GK was "own goal". Like that he gets credit but I am surprised he did.

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