The Portland Timbers went to Sporting Kansas City in need of at least draw and came away with a 3-2 win to advance to the MLS Cup Final. Sebastian Blanco opened the scoring with a thunderous strike and Diego Valeri finished off the home side with a second half brace.
From the opening whistle, it was clear that today’s match would shape up differently from the home leg. Kansas City came out of the gate looking to press the pace of the match and force the Timbers into a mistake.
That pressure nearly paid off for the home side as they generated several chances in the early going, culminating in a 16th minute corner kick that found striker Diego Rubio at the near post for a header on goal. Jeff Attinella was on the spot, however, and quickly raised a glove to make the stop.
Just three minutes later, in the 19th minute, Sporting got their opener. After a hard run down the Timbers’ left from Johnny Russell to work the ball into the box, a glancing tackle from Liam Ridgewell knocked it into the path of Rubio. With a defender on his back, Rubio could only help the ball on across the face of goal and into the path of Daniel Salloi at the back post. Although he had Zarek Valentin closing him down, Salloi was able to slot the ball between the defender’s legs for the finish, giving Sporting the 1-0 lead.
It looked like Kansas City had grabbed a second in the 24th minute when a looping header off a corner caught Attinella out of position. The goal was quickly waved off, however, as it was revealed that Sporting center back Ike Opara was offside at the time of the header and blocked Attinella from getting to the ball.
Late in the first half, the Timbers were finally able to assert themselves on the game. Working the ball into the Kansas City end, Portland found Sebastian Blanco deep on the left flank where the Argentine cut the ball back and found Andy Polo at the top of the box with a low pass. Polo touched the ball forward into the box, bursting past a defender before firing a hard shot at the near post that forced Sporting keeper Tim Melia to push the ball out for a corner with his first save of the match.
In the 52nd minute, Sebastian Blanco made magic happen. After once again receiving the ball out wide on the Timbers’ left, Blanco danced around his man and cut inside. Finding himself in space thirty yards from goal, Blanco stepped to the ball and hit a crackling shot that flew through the air over the outstretched hand of Melia before dipping perfectly below the bar to nestle into the back of the net.
The Timbers extended their lead in the 61st minute, scoring a second goal that was the polar opposite of Blanco’s miracle strike. On the ball in a similar area from where he struck minutes earlier, Blanco chipped a ball up and over the SKC back line, putting Jeremy Ebobisse in on goal. As the striker ran onto the ball, Melia rushed off his line, but Ebobisse got there just early enough to put a toe to the ball, popping it up into the air. As Melia and Ebobisse collided, it was Diego Valeri who rose up and put a head to the ball, knocking it into the back of the net and giving the Timbers a 2-1 lead.
Now two goals back due to the Timbers’ away goals, Sporting shook themselves off and began to take ahold of the match.
In the 67th minute, the home side came close when substitute speedster Gerso Fernandez burst past Valentin on the left flank and played a low cross into the path of Rubio. As Rubio struck the ball first-time, Ridgewell slid in to block the ball away. The ball fell back to Gerso but his put-back shot over the prone Ridgewell was blocked away by Attinella.
The pressure continued to come from Sporting as the match wound on and chances again began to flow for the home side.
A pair of balls over the top in the 73rd and 78th minutes found Felipe Guiterrez and Gerso, respectively, and in both cases the Sporting playes were able to put a shot on goal, but Attinella again and again came up strong for the Timbers.
Finally, in the 81st minute, Sporting were able to draw even with the Timbers. Graham Zusi got on the ball in space on the flank and played a low ball into traffic in the box. Zusi’s ball skipped past the near post and took a deflection off Bill Tuiloma before falling directly to Gerso. The sub took the ball and hit a low shot through traffic that gave Attinella no chance at the ball before it hit the back of the net.
The final minutes of the match played out in nerve-wracking fashion as the Timbers looked to see out nine minutes of stoppage time.
Sporting continued to throw men forward, but it was the Timbers who would grab the last goal of the match in the 9th minute of stoppage time. Off another Kansas City push forward, the Timbers broke quickly when Blanco spotted Chara charging down the pitch into space. After carrying the ball forward, Chara fed a perfectly placed pass into space in front of Valeri who received the ball centrally, took a touch around Melia, and slotted the ball home to finish off the match.