Portland Timbers midfielder Santiago Moreno settled the ball with his chest and spun to the center. He had received the pass near the midfield and suddenly found himself in acres of space with teammates flanking him on both sides. He headed for the penalty area and when the defenders didn’t close he fired a shot just beyond the penalty arc.
Real Salt Lake goalkeeper David Ochoa covered his post, but Moreno’s shot ricocheted off the post, into Ochoa and back into the net.
“What a perfect time to score your first goal,” said Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese.
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The strike gave Portland a 2-0 lead in the 61st minute and, with the way Savarese’s side had played, that could just as easily have been extinguished. The Timbers were yet to see the game, but that was when the rowdy crowd in Providence Park could start to taste it: The Timbers were going to the MLS Cup. Half an hour later, it was official.
And not just that, because of their regular season points tally, the Timbers will welcome anyone coming out of the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia Union or New York City FC.
Reaching the MLS Cup isn’t new territory for the Timbers – they won it in 2015 and were finalists in 2018 – but Saturday’s return trip will be the first time they host the biggest stage of the Major. League Soccer.
For Savarese, it’s been a dream since he started leading the team in 2017.
“The dream has come true,” he said. “And the only way that has become a reality is through the hard work everyone has put in this year and all those years that have been here. To be able to win this game tonight and host the MLS Cup is something that we are all about. very proud and excited. “
It also gives the Timbers plenty to be confident about Saturday’s game. During the regular season, only the New England Revolution – which set the league’s points record in a single season – won more games (12) than Portland at home (11). The combination of one of the league’s most enthusiastic fan bases with a turf playing surface has turned Providence Park into a fortress.
“It’s definitely very important for us to be at home,” said Timbers forward Felipe Mora. “Just being with our fans here makes us feel good at home. So it’s going to be very important to play in the final.”
As the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference, Portland took an unlikely path to get there. He opened his playoff streak with a 3-1 win over Minnesota United before beating the Colorado Rapids 1-0 on the road to win another home game in Saturday’s conference final. Philadelphia and New York both entered the playoffs with better seeds, but were right next to the Timbers’ points total in the regular season (55).
play0: 43A poor defense from RSL gives Timbers the first goal
A poor clearance from Real Salt Lake fell at the feet of Portland’s Felipe Mora who passed David Ochoa.
Salt Lake’s botched defense in the fifth minute gave Portland the cushion they were looking for. A poor effort to clear the ball seven yards in front of goal by Aaron Herrera put the ball at Mora’s feet and his quick reaction sent the ball back towards the goal beyond Ochoa’s reach.
Portland took the win despite their top striker Sebastian Blanco watching from the bench. With one more week to recover from a hamstring injury that initially kept him out of the roster against RSL, he believes he has a good chance of getting back into the starting XI.
The loss marks the end of the line for RSL, but what a magical race it was. The team were moments away from being knocked out on decision day just for Damir Kreilach’s last minute goal to keep the season alive. Then came the historic smooth game to move on to Seattle and a solid performance to knock out Sporting Kansas City.
“I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this squad,” said interim RSL head coach Pablo Mastroeni. “Nobody gave us a chance at the start of the season and nobody gave us a chance at the start of the playoffs either. And so having the mental toughness to overcome the perception of who we are is fantastic. You can still. seeing it from one point of view or the other, but I couldn’t be more proud of the effort and commitment of this group that I have been able to lead. “
As usual, the MLS Cup will be hosted by a team from the Pacific Northwest. No team other than Portland or Seattle has represented the Western Conference since 2014.