COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Portland Timbers had a plan to attack early in their first MLS Cup appearance. They didn’t expect it to work to perfection so quickly.
Diego Valeri scored 27 seconds after the opening whistle for the fastest goal in MLS Cup history to stun the Columbus Crew and thier home fans.
A second goal in the seventh minute by Rodney Wallace provided all the scoring the Timbers needed to beat the Crew 2-1 on Sunday for their first league title.
The first goal came when Columbus midfielder Wil Trapp sent a back pass to goalkeeper Steve Clark, who tried to move the ball from his right foot to the left for a clearance. But Clark didn’t see Valeri closing and the midfielder poked the ball away from him and into the goal.
“We knew the aggressiveness the first 20 minutes from us had to be there,” Valeri said. “We tried to be aggressive and pressure them.”
The Crew had barely recovered when a mental gaffe gave Portland a controversial second goal.
Crew midfielder Tony Tchani and several teammates stopped playing when the ball rolled several feet over the right boundary. Instead of a stoppage for a throw-in, Portland’s Darlington Nagbe kept going with the ball and sent a pass wide to Lucas Melano, who found Wallace for the header.
Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter said he did not see the play, but knew one thing, “In professional sports you play to either the ball is out of bounds or to the whistle.”
Crew captain Michael Parkhurst immediately gathered his teammates at midfield to settle them down before play resumed.
“Of course, I’m disappointed with the loss,” Parkhurst said. “No one envisioned that. We just said this is not how our season is going to end.”
Kei Kamara, the Crew star who tied for the MLS regular-season lead in goals with 22, made it 2-1 in the 18th minute off a poor punch of the ball by Timbers goalkeeper Adam Larsen Kwarasey.
But that was the only shot on target among the nine Columbus took in the match.
“We were never in danger,” Portland coach Caleb Porte said. “We were comfortable. We were tight. We saw the game out. We shut it down. That’s a part of winning.”
The victory capped a three-year mission for Porter, who led the University of Akron to an NCAA title in 2010 before leaving in August 2012 to join the Timbers.
“All I could think about (at the final whistle) was sharing that moment with my players,” he said. “We’ve been through a long season and shared the highs and lows.”
Portland was 6-0-3 in its last nine games in regular season and playoffs.
Even though Portland has been in MLS since 2011, the Timbers as a club have been in existence for 40 years back to the North American Soccer League. The last time the Timbers played for a championship was a loss to the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the 1975 NASL Cup.
ONE FOR TWO
The Crew won the 2008 title, beating New York 3-1 in Carson, California.
The Timbers are the 13th club to reach the MLS Cup and the 10th to win it.
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