"It’s a great feeling in a really hard stadium where we couldn’t win since 2013, so it’s unbelievable."
Fresh from a two-goal performance in a 3-2 win against Sporting Kansas City in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Championship second leg, midfielder Diego Valeri said those words in light of the Timbers' having clinched their second conference crown in four seasons.
The first leg of the match-up, held at Providence Park, was a cagey affair that ended nil-nil. SKC, with memories still fresh of their painful Knockout Round, penalty kick loss to Portland in the legendary "Double Post Game" from 2015, went all out for for this tilt at Children's Mercy Park. Pregame festivities included a parade of past Sporting player greats carrying out their haul of club trophies and the sellout crowd was energized by a special lightshow involving fans using their phones for a coordinated lightshow presentation. The No. 1 seed in the west was feeling confident.
With good reason, for since a lone win in 2013, Portland had not won a match away at Kansas City.
The game began according to plan for SKC with a Dániel Sallói goal in the 20th minute giving the home side and early 1-0 lead. But in the 52nd minute, the Timbers flipped the script with Sebastián Blanco's other-worldly golazo tying the game and giving Portland a series-deciding advantage thanks to the away goal rule. Valeri poked in a header nine minutes later and while Sporting would pull another goal back in the 81st minute from Gerso Fernandes to tie the scoreline at 2-2, Portland still led on away goals.
Kansas City refused to give up without a fight and thus began a furious onslaught as they tried to snatch a game-winner which is why the Timbers' combined magic in the ninth minute of second half stoppage time was so special.
Blanco's incredible strike may be the one people most talk about when thinking about this game but it was Valeri's second goal that utterly silenced Kansas City.
Chara squared the ball for Blanco centrally and then took off 40-some yards down field like a rocket. Blanco led him with a weighted ball forward to the left sideline while Valeri sprinted down the middle of the field in his own gut-busting run. Chara flicked a ball with the outside of his boot that curled around the last Sporting defender back, right onto Valeri's run who feinted the keeper and rifled his shot to make it 3-2 for Portland.
All of the air was sucked out of the stadium as Portland won their first game at Children's Mercy Park since 2013 to clinch the Western Conference Championship and move on to the 2018 MLS Cup.