PORTLAND, Ore.—With an attack-oriented 3-1 victory over FC Dallas on Sunday at Providence Park, the Portland Timbers discarded any notion they would try to make a cagey affair out of the first leg of their Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Championship.
The Timbers used a first-half goal from Liam Ridgewell, a stunning long-distance blast from Dairon Asprilla just after halftime and a finisher from Nat Borchers in stoppage time to leave the conference’s No. 1 seed with a tough climb when the series resumes in a week’s time at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
Facing a 2-0 deficit, Dallas staved off complete disaster with a 62nd-minute strike by David Texeira, a goal that could prove to be key should the series come down to the away-goal tiebreaker.
Despite the absences of playmaker Diego Valeri and winger Rodney Wallace due to yellow-card accumulation, the Timbers came out of the gates flying – nearly sneaking in the opener before the end of the opening minute.
It all started with the first of many blistering counters led by attacking midfielder Darlington Nagbe, who assumed Valeri’s normal role. Nagbe played through to Lucas Melano on the right wing for a shot on goal 30 seconds after the opening whistle that had to be turned away by Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez.
In the fourth minute, Portland were at it once again off Nagbe's playmaking: he (again) pushed wide to Melano, whose chip shot across the goalmouth was spilled by Gonzalez before a clearance.
Portland’s opener came two minutes later, when Nagbe’s corner was flicked on by a Asprilla header; Ridgewell bundled it across the line.
The Timbers threatened nearly adding their second in the 47th minute, when Asprilla redirected a corner kick to the top shelf, where it was palmed over by Gonzalez.
But Asprilla wouldn’t be denied: In the 53rd minute, he took a touch into space before unleashing a right-footed 30-yard blast past Gonzalez and into the far, top corner.
Dallas finally began to respond in the 55th minute; Michael Barrios peeled off a contested shot in the box that flew just high. Two minutes later, Diaz played through Ryan Hollingshead for a 1-on-1 with Kwarasey – who was caught off his line – but Hollingshead's shot was directed into the side netting.
They broke through shortly after, when Texeira tapped home a simple cross from Je-Vaughn Watson from the right flank for the crucial away goal.
The Timbers regained their two-goal advantage off a corner kick one minute into stoppage time; Borchers cleaned up an initial header from second-half substitute Norberto Paparatto to leave the sell-out crowd (21,144) in euphoria after their final home game of 2015.