Portland Timbers win their first-ever MLS playoff series through “probably the best 45 all season"

PORTLAND, Ore. – A test of wills was expected between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders in the final leg of the Western Conference semifinals, and in the end one team clearly had the edge.

Facing a one-goal deficit in the aggregate, Seattle needed to be on their front foot. Portland, who have attacked teams all season, said they planned to be aggressive as well, that there would be no bunkering to protect their slim advantage.

And in the test of wills, the Timbers came out on top – in a big way.

The Timbers provided just what head coach Caleb Porter asked for: a “ruthless” attack, firing off five shots on goal in the first half alone en route to a 3-0 lead before holding on to win 3-2 Thursday and take the series 5-3 in the aggregate.

“We’re capable of that,” Porter said in his postgame comments. “We’ve shown that this year. We’ve got it clicking, and we’ve got to keep it going. Like I’ve said, we’re in a great zone.

"This is what you hope to have happen with your team that you’re in a run of form at the end of the year and it just starts to grow and grow and build and the confidence grows. Listen, these guys are in a great spot right now,” said Porter.

From the outset the Timbers had the Sounders under pressure.

Rodney Wallace missed two good chances in the first 10 minutes. Darlington Nagbe fired off a shot in the 12th minute that required a save by Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning and another in the 15th minute.

Finally, it caught up to Seattle in the 27th minute when Sounders defender Djimi Traore was caught handling in the box, leading to a Will Johnson penalty kick goal.

Diego Valeri made it 2-0 right before halftime, before defender Mamadou “Futty” Danso punched Portland’s ticket to the conference finals with a header goal in the 47th minute.

“It was important, just mentality wise,” Johnson, the team captain, said of starting the game on the right foot. “It would be easy to get in a bunker mode early, but we didn’t. It’s one thing to say it, and it’s another to do it. We were happy to execute, some of the stuff we played and the chances we created in the first half were excellent.”

It was such a dominating half that both Porter and Nagbe said it could easily be considered their best of the season. Before Portland’s 2-1 victory over Seattle in the first leg Saturday at CenturyLink Field, the Timbers hadn’t scored more than one goal against the Sounders all season.

“Probably the best 45 all season, some good soccer we’ve been playing,” Nagbe said. “I don’t think we’ve ever been up 3-0 in a game like that with just a couple minutes left.”

But before the Timbers could get too confident, Seattle reminded them just how quickly things can change by pulling back two late goals by way of DeAndre Yedlin and Eddie Johnson. Porter said if anything, that was a good reminder heading into the next round against Real Salt Lake.

“It’s a reminder that if you keep your guard down in this sport you can get punched in the nose,” Porter said. “We were clearly in control of that game, and it was going away, it could have been 4-0, 5-0 easy. Soccer games, I’ve seen it, can turn in a moment.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.