After earning the fourth seed in the Western Conference, the Portland Timbers are set to host Minnesota United FC in a Round One match up of the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs at Providence Park on Nov. 21 (2:30pm PT, ESPN).
Portland qualified for the postseason for the fifth straight year and since their entry in MLS in 2011 and have had a number of memorable moments over the years. Here's a look back.
Darlington Nagbe's quick-strike against Seattle
In 2013, Portland made their first appearance in the MLS Cup Playoffs and, with the best regular-season record in the Western Conference that year, received a bye through to the quarterfinals where they were paired with eternal Cascadia rival Seattle Sounders FC.
In a two-legged format, the first game took place in Seattle at then-Centurylink – now Lumen – Field, a stadium that had not been kind to the Timbers in the past. But Portland took a 1-0 lead 15 minutes in on a goal from forward Ryan Johnson before doubling their lead with a quick-strike goal from midfielder Darlington Nagbe.
Seattle pulled one back late but with a 2-1 lead heading into the second home leg and an away goals rule in effect, Portland built on that momentum to earn a 3-2 win at home to advance, 5-3 on aggregate.
While Johnson's goal was key, it was Nagbe's goal that truly startled the Seattle crowd and showed that this Timbers visit was going to be a little different.
The Double Post
The team’s 2015 postseason run had a lot. And it’ll be discussed more below. But the Knockout Round game against Sporting Kansas City may go down as one of, if not the, greatest MLS Cup Playoff games in league history. It’s hard to pick just one moment from it so we’re going to just include the game in full.
An early Rodney Wallace goal gave Portland a 1-0 lead through 87 minutes before a Kevin Ellis equalizer came from SKC. Kristian Nemeth put the visitors up 2-1 in extra time before Maximiliano Urruti tied it for Portland in the 118th minute with just under two minutes to spare.
And then there was the penalty kicks. ELEVEN rounds of penalty kick takers – right down to the goalkeepers taking shots – that wouldn’t have even happened if not for the double-post magic miss of Kansas City defender’s Saad Abdul-Salaam.
Timbers goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey making the deciding shot and then saving his counterpart Jon Kempin’s attempt to win it put an extra exclamation point on the game that started a run that ultimately ended with the team’s first MLS Cup.
Ask any Portland Timbers fan what that length of time means and they’ll know immediately: Diego Valeri scoring the fastest goal in MLS Cup history in a 2-1 win over Columbus Crew SC.
Rodney Wallace doubled the lead six minutes after Valeri’s strike and despite Columbus scoring later in the first half, Portland cruised to earn their team’s first-ever MLS Cup triumph.
This isn't so much of a "moment" as it is an individual who has created some amazing playoff moments. Up until his 2021 career year and Supporters Player of the Year campaign that included 10 goals and three assists, Dairon Asprilla had never had more than two goals in an MLS season.
But his playoff performances were something else. In 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019, Asprilla has had a goal—his first being a golazo against FC Dallas in the first leg of the 2015 Western Conference Championship. (The game is great but you can skip ahead to the 1:57 mark to see the Asprilla goal.)
In 2018, on the team’s second run to a Cup final, Asprilla again was a force with an essential goal in the second leg of the Western Conference semifinals against, yes, that familiar rival, Seattle, to force penalties.
And then, on said penalties, Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella made a clutch save on Ozzie Alonso’s attempt that put Portland on advantage. In the fifth and deciding frame, it was Asprilla again playing the part of the hero as he converted his attempt to win it.
Blanco's audacious golazo
Staying on 2018, Portland followed their triumph over Seattle to go face no. 1 seeded Sporting Kansas City in the Western Conference championship. A tight 0-0 result came out of the first leg at Providence Park with a frigid Children’s Mercy Park playing host to the second and deciding leg.
Sporting trotted out past trophies and player greats in a pregame ceremony to hype the crowd and proceeded to take a 1-0 lead into the half. But in the 52nd minute, Sebastián Blanco fired an audacious, swerving and dipping shot from some 35 yards from goal that tied the game and gave Portland the away goal advantage.
Diego Valeri scored again in the 61st minute and tacked on another one in second-half stoppage to help send Portland to their second MLS Cup match in four seasons.
Zuparic with the game-winner for another trophy
Portland’s second major piece of hardware came not from the MLS Cup Playoffs, but rather through the unique 2020 MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, Fla. In a pandemic-affected campaign, teams quarantined inside the Walt Disney World Resort and played a tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
Portland made it through the knockout rounds by defeating FC Cincinnati on penalties, dispatching NYCFC in the quarters and then knocking out Philadelphia in the semis with Blanco named player of the tournament. In the final against Orlando City SC, both teams were even at 1-1 at the half thanks to goals from Portland's Larrys Mabiala and OCSC's Mauricio Pereyra.
The Portland roster was littered with players who earned tournament awards: Blanco won Player of the Tournament, Andy Polo had Goal of the Tournament, Steve Clark had Save of the Tournament and Mabiala, Blanco, Diego Chara and Jeremy Ebobisse were all named to the Tournament Best XI.
But to win it, it was defender Dario Zuparic who redirected a ball off a corner kick and into the back of the net for his first goal in a Portland uniform and the game-winning tally in the Timbers' 2-1 victory over Orlando City to earn the MLS is Back Tournament Final trophy.