PORTLAND, Ore. – The MLS Cup Playoffs series between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders was expected to be a memorable one, and it certainly didn't disappoint.
The Timbers celebrated their first-ever MLS Cup Playoffs series victory in the Western Conference semifinals thanks to a thrilling 3-2 victory Thursday night over their hated rival at an unhinged JELD-WEN Field that first saw the home side go up 3-0 before holding on for the 5-3 aggregate win.
Heading into their first home playoff game after beating Seattle 2-1 on Saturday at CenturyLink Field, the conference regular season champion Timbers clearly weren’t happy to sit back despite the goal advantage. They unleashed a relentless attack from the outset, resulting in first-half goals by Will Johnson, through a penalty, and Diego Valeri before defender Mamadou "Futty" Danso provided the icing on the cake with a second-half goal.
But Seattle made for some dicey moments for the enthralled home support late in the match, pulling back two goals by way of DeAndre Yedlin and Eddie Johnson.
Portland, however, regrouped to salt away the victory, continuing their magical 2013 season and setting up a conference championship matchup with Real Salt Lake, who eliminated two-time MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy. The Western Conference Championship series starts Sunday at RSL’s Rio Tinto Stadium (9 pm ET, ESPN).
From the outset of Thursday's match, the Timbers unleashed an onslaught, liberally testing embattled Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who was suspended for the first leg. Rodney Wallace was just off on two early chances: first pushing wide, after seamless combination play between Diego Valeri and Ryan Johnson led to an open look, and then on a blast from distance that Gspurning tentatively cleaned up.
Portland finally broke through when Djimi Traore was caught for a handball in the box, leading to Johnson’s penalty in the 29th minute.
Even with a two-goal aggregate lead, Portland didn’t let up.
Starting from the right wing right before halftime, Valeri centered to Wallace and made a decisive run into the area to meet Wallace’s perfect feed for a sliding goal in the 44th minute.
In contrast, Seattle saw most of their chances in the first half come from distance. Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts gobbled up a long Dempsey shot in the fifth minute. And then on a counterattack through Dempsey in the 34th minute, Johnson teed up a shot from distance that sailed high.
Following the break, on a quick restart in the 47th minute, Danso snuck behind the defense and got on the end of a Wallace cross to put the Timbers up 3-0.
Then things got interesting.
Seattle pulled one back on a long throw in in the 74th minute that skipped through to Yedlin, who pounced on the lose ball and fired it past Ricketts.
And just two minutes later, Johnson did what he does best and got on the end of a Yedlin corner kick, burying a header into the top left corner.
But that was all Seattle could muster as they watched their rivals celebrate their continued success in 2013.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Diego Valeri||Pulled the strings in the first half and kept Seattle off balance, before scoring a terrific goal of his own|
|2||Will Johnson||Coolly converted his PK, and disrupted Seattle's attack through midfield all night|
|3||Mauro Rosales||Immediately boosted Seattle after coming off the bench, although he couldn't spearhead the full comeback|