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PORTLAND, Ore. — “And now, we host MLS Cup!”

It brought the first applause break of Giovanni Savarese’s postgame speech, though when athletes are celebrating, applause makes room for cheers. And jumping. And in the current moment, phones pointed in each others’ faces as teammates tried to capture their moment.

Ahead of the usual postgame showers were showers of beer poured down each others’ backs when their coach spurred their cheers. These are the moments athletes work years to reach – the spoils from the Portland Timbers’ 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake on Saturday in the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Final.

“We understood that if we worked as a unit, as a family, as a group, that we can achieve something important,” Savarese said at the end of his night. “We always say the strength of the group is the group, and we took it day by day, one conversation at a time, one training at a time … To be able to be here today, I'm just extremely proud of the group.”

With their win, the Timbers claim their club’s third conference title in seven years, allowing Portland to, for the first tie, bring an MLS Cup final to Goose Hollow. Seven days from now, the winner of Sunday’s Philadelphia Union-New York City FC match (12pm PT, ABC) will line up across from the Timbers at Providence Park. Portland will be going for their second star. The East champions will be hoping for their first.

That opportunity comes after a game the Timbers led for more than 85 minutes, with an errant clearance from RSL’s Aaron Herrera in the game’s fifth minute turning into a point-blank chance for Portland forward Felipe Mora. With the first shot of the game, the Timbers were one step closer to MLS Cup.

RSL had one moment in the first half when they came close to tying the game. Timbers’ goalkeeper Steve Clark had to come up big on a Damir Kreilach header to keep his team in front. Aside from that, though, the Timbers maintained control. They ended up outshooting RSL 14-7, put seven shots on target to their guests’ three, and despite no need to keep the ball with a two-goal lead, ended up winning the possession battle (50.9-49.1).

It was exactly the performance many expected from a peaking host against a seventh seed hoping to extend their playoff run. The teams played each other three times in the regular season, with Portland winning all three games, RSL’s best hope seemed to come down to the proverbial puncher’s chance, or the hope that their playoff miracle would continue. They survived the Seattle Sounders two weeks ago and outplayed Sporting Kansas City over the second half last Sunday. Perhaps they had another trick to unveil.

Instead, it was the Timbers playing to their seed, their form, and their home-field advantage. They also played to their reputation. Since Savarese helped usher a run to the 2018 MLS Cup, Portland’s come to be seen as a potential postseason spoiler. That potential didn’t play out in the 2019 and 2020 playoffs, but it did during last summer’s MLS is Back Tournament. Perhaps the Timbers haven’t been able to make a run each year, but going back to 2015’s Cup-winning season, they’ve proven capable of doing damage. Over the time, Portland has established itself as a team you never want to meet in the postseason.

Now, though, the team is more than a dark horse. They’ll be at home next Saturday, when they’ll not only be favorites but also the in form side. They’ve won six in a row, two playoff games at home by multiple goals, and one match on the road where they knocked off one of the best teams during the regular season. They’ve earned the right to play in front of their fans for MLS Cup.

“It is a dream coming to reality,” Savarese said, “but we have to prepare for what we need to focus more on, which is the game. Whoever we have to play (against), because we do want to win this match. And in order for us to be able to compete, we need to prepare very well.”

The second goal was far more than right place, right time. Instead, it was a score that could prove unforgettable for one of the team’s newest players.

Chesting down a chip from defender Dario Zuparic into the Portland’s attacking third, winger Santiago Moreno – a 21-year-old whose midseason acquisition was lauded by his new club – unleashed a right-footed shot from 24 yards out. Though RSL’s David Ochoa did a good job to explode low to his right post, Moreno’s shot hit the bottom of the upright and bounced in, giving Portland the cushion they’d ride through the final whistle.

“We had two big players missing today, (Sebastián) Blanco and (Dairon) Asprilla,” Savarese said, alluding to two of his regular starters. A hamstring injury kept Blanco on the bench. Asprilla was suspended after receiving a red card in the previous playoff round. Both Moreno and Marvin Loría took advantage of their chance to start.

“They are two important players for us that make us be a better team,” Savarese continued. “But we had no doubt that whoever we were going to throw into the match was going to give everything in order to make us success today. I'm very proud of both of them, and the entire team.”