It was tough, it was tense, and it was closer than we wanted; but the Portland Timbers ground out a 2-2 draw against FC Dallas, giving the team a 5-3 win on aggregate and sending them through to the MLS Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
The first half went without a goal but not without a big save or two at either end.
It was Dallas keeper Jesse Gonzalez who came up big first as, in the 14th minute Norberto Paparatto launched a long diagonal ball for Timbers winger Dairon Asprilla. Running at the back post, Asprilla got past the Dallas back line and hit a first time shot on goal, only to see Gonzalez stick up a glove and block the attempt away.
Not to be outdone, Adam Kwarasey came up big for the Timbers in the 32nd minute. With Dallas breaking down the pitch, Kellyn Acosta hit a curving ball into the Timbers box that skipped to forward David Texeira. With space around him after shaking Norberto Paparatto, Texeira nodded a hard header on goal, only to see Kwarasey block the ball away.
The goals started coming in the second half, however, and it was the Timbers who opened the scoring.
In the 54th minute the Timbers worked the ball down the pitch and it was Diego Valeri who got he ball on the end line from a quick pass from Asprilla. The Maestro cut a sharp ball back into the box, finding the feet of Fanendo Adi. Adi, as he has done so many times this year, took a quick touch, then turned and fired a hard shot that skipped off a defender and hit the back of the net as Gonzalez could only watch.
Dallas were not out of it there, however, and Mauro Diaz was the man to put Dallas back in it. The Argentine sent a chipped ball into the Timbers' box in the 68th minute, dropping it perfectly at the feet of defender Ryan Hollingshead. Hollingshead, who had scored only twice this year, coolly slotted it home, just picking out the far post as Kwarasey could only watch it roll into the back of the net.
Emboldened by the goal, Dallas kept up the pressure and another goal was clearly coming.
In the 73rd minute they broke through again, this time on a free kick from just outside the Timbers box. Again it was Diaz providing the service as he curled a simple ball across the face of goal, finding the head of recent substitute Blas Perez. Dallas's big man made no mistake with the perfect ball provided for him and headed the ball home, again leaving Kwarasey to only watch the ball as it hit the back of the net.
With the Timbers on the back foot and fighting a brutal battle to keep Dallas from getting the equalizer, it was down to sheer grit and a moment of brilliant to pull them through. Thankfully, both were on offer as the Timbers finished out the match.
First it was Nat Borchers coming up big with an extended toe to block away a free shot from Perez inside the Timbers box, then, in the final minute of added time, Lucas Melano put an end to the Dallas comeback with a brilliant goal. Diego Valeri was again the playmaker for the Timbers, setting Melano free in the Dallas box with a tricky back heel. With the ball at his feet, Melano cut around a defender then took the ball to the end line, getting around Gonzalez and just barely touching the ball over the goal line to put the Timbers up 5-3 on aggregate.
The Timbers will play in the MLS Cup Final net Sunday against either the Columbus Crew or New York Red Bulls.