Timbers deserved winners of dramatic MLS Cup

Portland Timbers midfielder Rodney Wallace celebrates his club's 2-1 victory over the Columbus Crew in the MLS Cup on Sunday. (Jay LaPrete/AP)

A goal within the opening 30 seconds, blown calls by the refs, a bit of controversy and a number of shots that went off the posts and crossbars—the 2015 MLS Cup was one of the most memorable in recent history, providing plenty of drama and entertainment.

Full credit to the Portland Timbers, who earned a 2-1 win over the Columbus Crew in Sunday’s final. The Timbers were full value for the victory, earning the result in Columbus’ home stadium and extending their unbeaten streak to nine games en route to claiming their first Major League Soccer title.

Here are my three thoughts on the game.

Two important, overlooked moments
The match started at a frenetic pace, with all three goals coming in the first 18 minutes, and the first after only 27 seconds. Errors by both goalkeepers led to Portland’s opener and Columbus’ reply, but smart plays in the buildup to both goals were just as vital.

Diego Valeri scored the fastest goal in MLS Cup history, taking advantage of a poor touch from Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark. Wil Trapp played a back pass to Clark, who took a heavy touch and dawdled on the ball touch before it got away from him. Valeri wisely stuck with the play the entire way as he closed down Clark and poked the ball in the back of the net. While Clark’s mistake was costly, Valeri’s hustle created a goal out of nothing.

After Portland went 2-0 in controversial fashion (more on that later) Columbus drew a goal back in the 18th minute. Timbers goalkeeper Adam Larsen Kwarasey fumbled a routine high cross played into his penalty area, and a game of pinball ensued with players from both teams fighting for the ball. Kei Kamara kept his composure and even took a touch with a crowd of Timbers defenders around him before calmly firing the ball home through a forest of legs. Kamara didn’t rush his shot and was cool under pressure, allowing the Crew to get back in to the game after a horrendous start.

Blown calls stand out
There were lots of missed calls in this contest, including a hand ball by Columbus defender Michael Parkhurst on his goal-line after the ball came off the post. Also, referee Jair Marrufo let a lot of rough play go.

But easily the most egregious mistake—and easily the most laughable—was the one that directly led to Portland’s second goal in the seventh minute.

Chara hit a pass out wide that clearly went out of bounds—by at least a yard—before being flicked back in by teammate Alves Powell. Crew midfielder Tony Tchani attempted to dribble the ball out for a throw-in, but Portland’s Darlington Nagbe nicked the ball off of him and went streaking down the left flank. Seconds later, Lucas Melano played a perfect cross to the back post for Rodney Wallace to head home.

What made it even worse was that the linesman was on that side of the field less than 10 yards away from the incident. How he and the referee missed appears to be anybody’s rational understanding.

Referees will make mistakes, even in championship games. It’s a fact of life we have to accept. Missing Parkhurst’s handball, that’s one thing. But missing the ball clearly go out of bounds on the near side? That’s inexcusable. It was such a comical error, that you have to question the competency of the officials put in charge of this match.

Quiet night from Crew’s ‘Big 3’
Kamara scored the crucial goal—his fourth of the playoffs, taking his overall season total to 26—but other than that the Columbus forward had a quiet game.

Maybe it was because of the right leg injury he suffered in training the day before. Whatever the reason, he looked slow and laboured at times, especially when trying to hold off defenders and turn them, and he was unable to up the tempo of the game when needed.

Midfielder Ethan Finlay, a key playmaker for Columbus this season, created next to nothing in a punchless performance being subbed out in the 63rd minute.

Argentine Federico Higuain, another important attacking player for Columbus, hardly influenced the game, aside from playing the ball to Kamara on the Crew’s goal. Usually Higuain causes problems for defenders with his deft touch on the ball and his runs off the ball into dangerous areas. Not tonight. Portland did a good job of neutralizing him thanks to the suffocating play of centre backs Liam Ridgewell and Nat Borchers.


Soccer Central podcast: SPORTSNET.CA’s Soccer Central podcast, hosted by John Molinaro and James Sharman, takes an in-depth look at the beautiful game and offers timely and thoughtful analysis on the sport’s biggest issues. To listen and subscribe to the podcast, CLICK HERE.