PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter has said all season long that games can come down to one moment, however brief, however unexpected.
He just never said anything about divine intervention.
Just take one of the myriad highlights–or lowlights, if you're Sporting Kansas City–of Portland’s unforgettable 11-round penalty kick shootout win Thursday night over SKC in the Knockout Round of the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs. In one of the turning points of the shootout, Sporting's Saad Abdul-Salaam saw his attempt bounce off both posts in the ninth round with the chance to win the match for Sporting.
“Our crowd, our fans, our supporters, the Timbers Army, I think they were the ones who kept that last ball out of the net,” Porter said in his post-match comments. “It was either them or God because the thing bounced twice, and I don’t how it didn’t go in. But it didn’t.”
Two rounds later, Timbers goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey stepped to the spot and slammed home his attempt. He then turned around and savedthe chance taken by his SKC counterpart Jon Kempin for a 7-6 shootout win that ignited a raucous celebration.
“My heart stopped for a couple of seconds there,” Kwarasey said of Abdul-Salaam’s miss. "I’m still a little bit exhausted, but it’s still a wonderful feeling.”
Yes, it was a match that had it all.
Portland were two minutes away from elimination after Sporting forward Krisztian Nemeth scored in the sixth minute of the first extra time period for a 2-1 Sporting Kansas City lead. That came after SKC defender Kevin Ellis equalized at 1-1 on an 87th-minute corner kick header.
But Portland, who took a 1-0 lead on a Rodney Wallace goal in the 57th minute, came through with some heroics of their own first when second-half substitute Maximiliano Urruti tied it up at 2-2 on a booming header in the 118th minute.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet, to be honest with you,” Porter said of the victory. “We’ve got guys that want to win and are hungry, and we got plays from different guys today to win the game. And we needed those plays, and that was ultimately what was the difference.”
The shootout alone was rife with drama – and not just thanks to both goalposts.
Kempin, Sporting’s 22-year-old backup goalkeeper, came on late in regulation when Tim Melia was unable to continue due to injury. The former saved Portland’s first attempt, from stellar Argentine playmaker Diego Valeri–one of three saves in the shootout by the Homegrown Player.
Kwarasey denied two of his own PKs, and Sporting missed three attempts.
“Something kept that goal out,” Porter said of Kempin's last shot. “I don’t know what it was; maybe it was the air from them yelling so much. Something did, something kept it out. So I’m going to credit the Timbers Army.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com