Portland Timbers' trophy drought ends with 2015 MLS Cup victory vs. Crew SC
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Portland Timbers claimed their first MLS Cup on Sunday, defeating the Columbus Crew 2-1.
Two goals inside the first seven minutes from Diego Valeri and Rodney Wallace staked the Timbers to an early 2-0 lead. Columbus pulled a goal back through Kei Kamara, but it wasn't enough to prevent the Timbers from claiming the title.
Here are three thoughts from an entertaining, though at times sloppy, match.
1. Road resilience key as Portland ends their drought
The Timbers began life in the NASL back in 1975 but over the ensuing 40 years across various leagues, they had never managed to win a league championship. That long wait ended on Sunday with another highly effective road performance.
All told, Portland played three road games in its run to the title and never tasted defeat. But while the first two matches were contested as part of home-and-away series, this match was a one-off played in opposition territory and it took every bit of effort to get over the championship finish line. That Portland made it owed everything to another stellar and composed defensive display. The back line duo of Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell were solid throughout while holding midfielder Diego Chara put in an otherworldly shift, defusing numerous Columbus attacks.
The tactical switch made towards the end of the season, in which Darlington Nagbe moved into a central role, has worked wonders for the Timbers given how it has freed up both Nagbe and Valeri. But it only worked because Chara has been a ball-winning machine. His ability to reprise that form on Sunday proved vital in Portland's victory.
The contingent of Timbers fans -- estimated at over 2,000-strong -- no doubt proved inspirational to the visitors and when the final whistle blew, Timbers players and fans celebrated with gusto.
2. Columbus Crew SC pay for basic errors
For a championship game, there was a stunning array of basic errors, and they began in the very first minute. Columbus goalkeeper Steve Clark collected a back pass from Wil Trapp but dawdled on the ball too long, allowing Valeri to close him down and deflect his clearance into the net after a mere 27 seconds. It was the fastest goal in MLS Cup final history and stunned the partisan crowd.
Not even the referees were immune to the early glut of mistakes. Just six minutes later, a Portland pass clearly went out of bounds but when no throw-in was signaled, Crew SC's Tony Tchani stopped playing and allowed Nagbe to head up field with the ball. The home side was duly punished for its inattentiveness as Lucas Melano's cross was nodded home at the far post by Wallace. The home crowd was incensed and proceeded to pelt the Portland players with debris as they celebrated, a bad display in the final game of the season.
Not to be outdone, the Timbers gifted the Crew its lone goal in the 18th minute. Portland goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey should have claimed a high ball in the box but opted to punch instead. He made poor contact with the ball, sparking a melee in the box that ended with Kamara rifling home his shot to make the score 2-1. Nerves eventually settled down on both sides but for the Crew, there was no undoing the damage done by its early run of critical mistakes.
3. Portland contains Crew SC's wing threat
After the frenetic opening 20 minutes, the Crew took control of the midfield with Tony Tchani and Trapp doing more to control the tempo. Justin Meram was also a threat running with the ball but Portland was able to bottle Columbus through the middle and find gaps on the wings. In particular, Jorge Villafaña got the better of Ethan Finlay, which enabled the Timbers to maintain a foothold in the game even as Columbus players channeled their righteous indignation in the right direction.
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This proved to be a trade-off that Portland was more than willing to accept given the way Kamara thrives on service from the flanks. Not even the second-half introduction of Cedric Mabwati, who came on for the ineffective Finlay, was enough to turn things around for the Crew and Villafaña then became more of a Timbers threat going forward. Whenever Columbus did manage to get the ball wide and get a cross in, one of Borchers, Ridgewell or Chara was there to clean up.
Ultimately, Portland created the better second half chances. Columbus was lucky to avoid conceding a penalty when Kamara's attempted clearance deflected off the underside of the bar and then off Parkhurst's arm. Adi later headed a Villafaña cross off the post. Clark later redeemed himself to a degree between the Crew SC posts, saving late efforts from both Borchers and Adi, but it didn't matter in the end as the Timbers prevailed and hoisted their first MLS Cup.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.