COLUMBUS, Ohio – Before the 2015 MLS Cup final, Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter wrestled with the question of whether he believed in destiny, ultimately deciding that hard work begets success.
As it turned out, his team's hard work earned them their first-ever MLS Cup in thrilling – and, at times, controversial – fashion.
After opening with the fastest goal in the event's 20-year history, the Timbers held on to a 2-1 advantage on Sunday against Columbus Crew SC at MAPFRE Stadium to become the 10th MLS team and first Cascadia club to win MLS Cup. Portland joined MLS as an expansion team in 2011, becoming champions in their fifth season in the league.
The Timbers completed an incredible run to raise MLS Cup, ascending from below the red line on Oct 3 to finish third in the Western Conference. They then survived an 11-round penalty shootout against Sporting KC in the Knockout Round, blanked the Vancouver Whitecaps, 2-0, in the conference semifinal and handled No. 1 seed FC Dallas in the Conference Championship.
A stunning misplay by Crew SC goalkeeper Steve Clark in the opening minute, a bad touch taking him across his own goal under pressure, put Columbus behind just 27 seconds into the game as Diego Valeri, who was named MLS Cup MVP, slid in to redirect the Clark's clearance into an empty net. The home team spent more than 89 minutes desperately trying to recover.
It took just six minutes for Portland to double their lead, via a play that Crew SC players and fans believed should have been blown dead.
In an attempt to find Alvas Powell on the right sideline, Diego Chara appeared to play a pass out of bounds. The ball popped out to Tony Tchani, who took a few touches toward the sideline, ostensibly to set up a Columbus throw-in. But the whistle didn’t blow, and Darlington Nagbe chased the ball down, reversing direction in front of Tchani before playing wide to Lucas Melano, whose one-touch cross found Rodney Wallace for a diving header past Clark in the center of the box.
In the 17th minute, Crew SC got one back. Justin Meram crossed to Kei Kamara, who bodied defender Nat Borchers and screened Portland goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey. With Kwarasey on the ground, Kamara fought for the loose ball, pivoted and shot through Powell’s legs on the goal line.
The game proved an up-and-down affair thereafter, with both teams creating chances, though Portland had a pair of heart-stopping hits off the woodwork:
In the 60th, a Timbers corner found Wallace on the right side of the box, where his shot snuck through. Michael Parkhurst headed it off the line – into Kamara, who flailed while falling backward, kicking the ball against the underside of the crossbar, hitting Parkhurst's arm and the right post before Columbus cleared.
Just 10 minutes later, Jorge Villafana arced a cross to Fanendo Adi, who headed the ball while moving back and to his left, sending the ball into the right post. It ricocheted into a trailing Clark, who couldn't corral ball but knocked it out along the end line.
Columbus' best chance of the second half came in the 77th minute, when Harrison Afful chipped a cross toward Federico Higuain in the area, where the Argentinian one-touched it over his head out of the air – just past Jack McInerney's attempted header.
Clark kept Crew SC's late hopes alive with a reflex save in the 81st minute, trapping a Borchers header between his legs just in front of the line. Columbus pressed forward for an equalizer, but couldn't put any threatening attempts on target.
Crew SC become the second MLS team to lose the Cup final while playing at home, joining the 2002 New England Revolution, who fell to the LA Galaxy at Gillette Stadium.
The Timbers are the third expansion team to win MLS Cup, following in the footsteps of the Chicago Fire (1998) and Real Salt Lake (2009).