COLUMBUS, Ohio – It would have been hard for the Portland Timbers to start Sunday’s MLS Cup any better.
They scored the fastest goal in the title game’s history, just 27 seconds from the opening whistle when Diego Valeri’s pressure stunned Crew SC goalkeeper Steve Clark into coughing up the opener (WATCH IT HERE). Portland got their second just seven minutes later on a Rodney Wallace header (WATCH IT HERE).
The few thousand Timbers fans amassed in the south end of MAPFRE Stadium melted into a frenzy. Portland, meanwhile, knew they faced the stark reality of Crew SC throwing everything they had at them over the next 83-plus minutes. The Timbers' ability to survive that push, allowing just one Crew SC goal in the 18th minute from Kei Kamara allowed them to lift the Cup after a 2-1 victory at MAPFRE Stadium.
"We knew they were going to come at us with numbers, with pressure, and we had to deal with that,” Timbers center back Nat Borchers said. “Obviously when a team throws numbers forward, you’ve got to be able to counterattack them and score a goal and create. I thought we countered them so well. I thought we did such a good job with our possession, and it just gives us time in the back to relax a little bit and get our breath."
In their comeback push, Crew SC looked to exploit the very matchups talked about by both teams in the days leading up to the game: speedy wingers getting crosses into Kamara, their big 22-goal striker who has bagged three more in the playoffs. Kamara pounced on a loose ball in the box spilled by Timbers goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey for Crew SC’s only goal, but Portland were up to the task on all 27 of their crosses and four corner kicks.
“We didn’t have to deal with a whole lot of dangerous crosses,” Borchers said. “Kei Kamara, he can score at will in this league, and I thought that Jorge and Alvas did a great job of shutting the flank play down.”
In the end, despite a frenzied Crew SC onslaught, with head coach Gregg Berhalter bringing on three attacking subs late in Cedrick, Jack McInerney and Mohammed Saeid and their raucous home crowd urging them on, Portland would only allow one shot on goal all night. They even outshot Columbus 12-9 and drew woodwork twice.
“It was weird, you know, you feel like getting that two-goal lead, it’s good, but you feel like your whole game plan changes because you’re trying to protect a two-goal lead and then a one-goal lead against a team that is good in possession,” midfielder Darlington Nagbe told MLSsoccer.com. “So guys handled it great, defended well and still attacked and could have gotten a few more goals.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.