The Portland Timbers took care of business and defeated Real Salt Lake 2-0 in the Western Conference Final, advancing to the 2021 MLS Cup Final. Felipe Mora opened the scoring early in the fifth minute and Santiago Moreno tallied a banger of a goal in the second half to seal the deal.
The atmosphere was absolutely electric before the game. Despite the windy and rainy conditions, the Timbers Army section in the North End was filled to the brim well before kickoff. They were in full voice with chants and drum beats raining out across the stadium as the teams warmed up.
The volume and energy only increased as kickoff approached. It was the biggest game that Providence Park has hosted in a while and the fans were ready for it.
Before kick off the Timbers Army unfurled another gorgeous tifo display, featuring the call for the team to “Hold your ground. Take the Crown”, and paying homage to the supporter’s description of the Timbers as the “King of Clubs” in Latin. It was an incredible backdrop and set the stage for the opening periods of the game.
And those opening period unfolded in the most incredible of manner for Timbers fans. The opening minutes were marked by RSL trying to control the ball and the Timbers looking to press higher up the field to win the ball back. It was a cagey start but then Felipe Mora blew the roof off Providence Park.
In the fifth minute, a ball was cleared only as far as Marvin Loria on the right side. He whipped a ball in for Mora, who expertly flicked it across to Yimmi Chara in the box. Yimmi drove to the end line and cut the ball back only for his cross to be deflected. The ball fell to the foot of an RSL defender, who tried to flick it away but instead, it found the waiting foot of Felipe Mora. Mora was in the right place at the right time and he met the ball in stride. It flew past the outstretched arm of David Ochoa, who made a last-ditch attempt to stop the ball. But stop the ball he could not and it nestled into the far corner.
Providence Park erupted, the green smoke billowed out of the North End and the Portland Timbers had opened up a 1-0 advantage.
It was an important moment for the Timbers, who were able to capitalize on the crowd’s energy in the opening stages. It may have come via a fortunate deflection, but the home side was able to capitalize in the early stages of the biggest game of the season yet.
After the goal, the game settled into a pattern of Real Salt Lake seeking to attack down the wings, desperate to find the equalizer. Portland backed off and dropped their line as RSL sought to control more of the ball. The Timbers did not sit too deep, however, as they still looked to unleash their potent pace on the counterattack.
It was through a counterattack that Portland found their next good chance of the game. Paredes did well to chase down Anderson Julio and immediately played in Loria, who had made a lung-busting run to the near post. Loria fizzed a pass across the box which Ochoa deflected back into space right in between Mora and Santiago Moreno. Mora got caught up with his feet, and Ochoa closed down the space, leaving Moreno with limited time to get off a shot as he spun around. His spinning effort flew into the North End.
While Portland searched for a second goal, the away side nearly found their equalizer in the 33rd minute. Another RSL attack down the right wing resulted in Aaron Herrera whipping in a ball right in front of the goal. Damir Kreilach was there to meet it and sent a point-blank header on frame. Steve Clark was in the right spot and expertly reacted to parry the ball upward and then collect. It was Salt Lake’s best chance of the game so far, and Portland’s netminder was up to the task.
Despite Real Salt Lake carving out chances, and despite the Timbers never being able to find their second goal in the opening forty-five minutes, Portland was very much the team in control. In the first half, they outshot RSL 7-3, and the Timbers out-possessed their opponents by a margin of 56% to 44%.
Importantly, the Timbers outworked Real Salt Lake in the first half and seemed to be first to every first and second ball. The score was still just 1-0 at the end of the first half but the Timbers looked like a team playing with confidence and control.
As the second half began, Real Salt Lake came out determined to fight their way back into the game. They showed the same assertiveness that they showed at the start of the game and looked to break down Portland through increased variation, incorporating attacks down the wings and longer balls sent in over the top for their forwards.
The increased urgency from RSL opened up space for the Timbers on the counterattack in the opening ten minutes. Were it for some better or quicker decision-making to find that final pass on the side of Portland, they may well have turned those chances into scoring opportunities. They were, however, unable to do so and as the rain started to fall harder the second half settled in with Portland still holding their one-goal advantage.
That advantage would finally be turned into a two-goal advantage in the 61st minute. A long ball over the top found Santiago Moreno running into space. Moreno did well to collect and then fired a rocket low toward the near post. The ball pinged off the frame and right back off the back of the outstretched Ochoa and then it ricocheted into the net.
Moreno found his first Timbers goal, Providence Park lost their minds and it was 2-0 in favor of Portland.
After Moreno’s goal, the field seemed to tip the Timbers' way. Real Salt Lake made offensive subs in an attempt to try to claw their way back but much like what befell Minnesota in the playoffs and San Jose in the regular season, the Timbers’ second goal seemed to take the wind out of RSL’s sails, and their frustration started to mount.
That frustration boiled over in the 79th minute when Aaron Herrera was booked for a late challenge on Marvin Loria. Herrera was shown his second yellow of the game and he was subsequently sent off. Already down two goals and down momentum and energy, the visitors would have to play the rest of the way down a man as well.
Undeterred, Real Salt Lake kept throwing numbers forward in a desperate attempt to keep their season alive. Some more smart goalkeeping from Clark, along with some continued concerted defending from the Timbers, managed to keep RSL’s last gasp at bay.
As the minutes stretched into stoppage time, the volume from the crowd grew once again. The crowd could sense as the game inched closer and closer to final, ready to erupt and accept the team’s earned reward of hosting the cup final.
In the final moments, Steve Clark waved his arms high, urging the crowd to come more alive. The volume hit its top end, the final whistle, and Providence Park exploded. The Portland Timbers had won the Western Conference and will host the 2021 MLS Cup Final.
It was a composed, controlled, and comprehensive performance from a Timbers side that has absolutely caught fire in the final month of the regular season and the playoffs. And it was a just reward for a team that has shown an incredible amount of fight and unity in this postseason.
Portland will have to wait for the Eastern Conference Final to find out who they will host in the final. One of the Philadelphia Union or New York City will come to town to face Portland for the trophy.
Regardless of which team it is, with the crowd at their backs and energy in their stride, the Timbers look like a team ready to face the world and a squad that will not be denied.