COLUMBUS, Ohio — In one of the wildest MLS Cup finals in the league’s 20-year history, the Portland Timbers scored twice in the first seven minutes and beat the Columbus Crew 2-1 to win Portland’s first-ever league championship.
It was a game defined by craziness. A first-minute goal by Portland that came when Diego Valeri pressured goalkeeper Steve Clark into clearing the ball off Valeri and into the goal. Several missed calls, including a missed Columbus handball on the goalline and a ball out of bounds that Portland played on and turned into its second goal. And it was yet another goalkeeper error, this one by Portland’s Adam Kwarasey, that led to the Columbus goal.
But there was also a lot of organic soccer excitement within the game, too, and in the end Portland became the first away team to win the MLS Cup final since the league switched to having one of the participants host the Big Game in 2011.
Here are my three thoughts on the game:
Portland deserved this
The Timbers just executed better. Valeri, who won match MVP honors, was more of a disruptive force than a creator for parts of this game, but that disruption is what caused the first goal, and his calm helped Portland hold onto the lead. Meanwhile, Darlington Nagbe had some quietly glorious moments with the ball and did much of the work to create the game-winning goal.
Portland’s center backs, Liam Ridgewell and Nat Borchers, had a stellar game, as they have for the entirety of the playoffs, and left back Jorge Villafaña did a fantastic job shutting down Ethan Finlay. Coach Caleb Porter took this team to a new level in the last two months, and the Timbers consummated their rise to being the best team in the league.
Parts of this game were uncomfortable to watch
For starters, the officiating was poor. An assistant referee just can’t miss a call when the ball clearly goes over the line.
And the missed goalline handball call on Michael Parkhurst was bad, too, even if it sort of evened out the mistakes between teams. Referee Jair Marrufo was also way too lax on the rough play. But that wasn’t the only concerning thing. The rain of debris and projectiles from the Columbus fans on the Portland players after their second goal was something that you never want to see in your league, much less in the championship game.
Columbus wasn’t able to do what it wanted
The Crew fullbacks, Waylon Francis and Harrison Afful, didn’t get forward into the attack as much as they usually do, and Afful in particular was guilty of much of the game’s rough play.
Finlay, who has done so much damage this season, was relatively punchless on his way to an early sub. And Federico Higuaín didn’t have the impact on the game that I was expecting to see. Give plenty of credit to Portland for a defensive gameplan that prevented Columbus from executing the way it intended.
I never though a year ago that I would be writing about Portland’s championship-winning defense, but Porter helped turn that weakness into a strength with the acquisition of Borchers, who might have been the most important player of the MLS playoffs.
MLS Cup Winners Through The Years
1996 — D.C. United
1996 — D.C. United (beat LA Galaxy 3-2 in extra time)
1997 — D.C. United
1997 — D.C. United (beat Colorado Rapids 2-1)
1998 — Chicago Fire
1998 — Chicago Fire (beat D.C. United 2-0)
1999 — D.C. United
1999 — D.C. United (beat LA Galaxy 2-0)
2000 — Kansas City Wizards
2000 — Kansas City Wizards (beat Chicago Fire 1-0)
2001 — San Jose Earthquakes
2001 — San Jose Earthquakes (beat LA Galaxy 2-1 in extra time)
2002 — LA Galaxy
2002 — LA Galaxy (beat New England Revolution 1-0 in extra time)
2003 — San Jose Earthquakes
2003 — San Jose Earthquakes (beat Chicago Fire 4-2)
2004 — D.C. United
2004 — D.C. United (beat Kansas City Wizards 3-2)
2005 — Los Angeles Galaxy
2005 — Los Angeles Galaxy (beat New England Revolution 1-0 in extra time)
2006 — Houston Dynamo
2006 — Houston Dynamo (beat New England Revolution in penalty kicks after 1-1 draw)
2007 — Houston Dynamo
2007 — Houston Dynamo (beat New England Revolution 2-1)
2008 — Columbus Crew
2008 — Columbus Crew (beat New York Red Bulls 3-1)
2009 — Real Salt Lake
2009 — Real Salt Lake (beat LA Galaxy in penalty kicks after 1-1 draw)
2010 — Colorado Rapids
2010 — Colorado Rapids (beat FC Dallas 2-1 in extra time)
2011 — LA Galaxy
2011 — LA Galaxy (beat Houston Dynamo 1-0)
2012 — LA Galaxy
2012 — LA Galaxy (beat Houston Dynamo 3-1)
2013 — Sporting Kansas City
2013 — Sporting Kansas City (beat Real Salt Lake in penalty kicks after 1-1 draw)
2014 — LA Galaxy
2014 — LA Galaxy (beat New England Revolution 2-1 in extra time)
2015 – Portland Timbers
2015 – Portland Timbers (beat Columbus Crew SC 2-1)
2016 – Seattle Sounders
2016 – Seattle Sounders (beat Toronto FC in penalty kicks after 0-0 draw)
2017 – Toronto FC
2017 – Toronto FC (beat Seattle Sounders 2-0)
2018 - Atlanta United
2018 - Atlanta United (beat Portland Timbers 2-0)