Timbers Headed to MLS Final
Monday, November 30, 2015
The Timbers will be the first major professional sports team in the Rose City to compete for a championship in more than two decades. The last was the Portland Trailblazers, who fell in the 1992 NBA Finals to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
The Timbers entered Sunday's confident in excellent position after drubbing first-place Dallas 3-1 in Texas during the first leg of the Conference Finals, and needed only to keep the game within one goal to move on to the finals. Portland was on the defensive for most of the first half, but neither team found the back of the net.
Portland would become the aggressors after the intermission. Fanendo Adi gave Portland a near lock on the Western Conference title early in the second half as he found the back of the net in the 54th minute to give Portland a 1-0 lead, and a 4-1 lead in the aggregate score column. Adi had luck on his side, as the ball careened off of Dallas defender Jesse Gonzalez before skipping across the goal line.
Dallas refused to surrender, striking quickly for two goals. Ryan Hollingshead scored first, scorching a shot into the far side corner off an assist from Mauro Diaz in the 69th minute. Diaz earned another assist just minutes later when his cross found the head of Blaz Perez and Dallas pulled within one goal in the aggregate score.
Portland rallied to stonewall an intense series of attacks in the games final minutes before finally putting a lock on a birth to the MLS Cup. Lucas Melano buried one last tally in the waning moments to secure Portland's shot at the title.
They'll be matched up against the Eastern Conference's Columbus Crew, who held on for a 2-1 aggregate victory against the New York Red Bull. The Timbers defeated the Crew in the team's lone matchup this year, a victory at home by a final score of 2-1. Adi was a standout in that contest as well, scoring both of Portland's goals in the victory.
The Crew are no underdogs, finishing second in the East with 53 points. They finished behind eventual finals opponent New York, who completed the season with 60 points. The Timbers and the Crew had remarkably similar runs to the finals, both finishing second behind a 60 point team. Both teams would also defeat that first place team to reach the MLS Cup.
Offensively, Columbus is led by star striker Kei Kamara, who scored 22 goals for the Crew this year, tied for the lead league. Adi, Portland's leading scorer, finished the season with only 16 goals, good enough for the seventh spot on the leaderboard.
On the defensive end, goalkeeper Steve Clark started all 34 games for the Crew. He amassed six shutouts and 114 saves, giving him a goals-against average of 1.56, good enough for 13th, second and 17th, respectively. The advantage lies with the Timber's here, as their keeper Adam Kwarasey leads the league in shutouts with 13, owns the league's fourth-best goals against average at 1.09 and is twelfth in saves with an even 80.
The two teams will face off in Colombus at 1 PM on this Sunday, December 6. Columbus was 9-4-4 at home this year while the Timbers carry a losing road record at 7-8-2,
You can watch the game on ESPN.
The Final Chapter to a Storybook Season
Sunday's matchup will be the chance for the Timbers storybook season to close with a happy ending. The team went on a nearly miraculous run in the season's final months, earning points in nine of their final 12 regular season games, including wins in the final each of the three games of the season.
The Timber's playoff run kept the magic alive, starting with a victory over Sporting Kansas City that needed penalty kicks to break the deadlock. Portland next vanquished the Vancouver White Caps before earning the conference title against FC Dallas.
The Timbers last lost outright on October 3. Let's see if they can keep it that way.
Related Slideshow: 12 of the Greatest Sports Movies of All Time
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#8 The Longest Yard
Not the remake with Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. But the hilarious original with Burt Reynolds and Eddie Albert as a wonderfully villainous warden who pits the guards against the inmates in a grudge football game that includes former Green Bay linebacker Ray Nitschke and other ex-football players like Sonny Sixkiller and Joe Kapp, both stalwart Pac-8 quarterbacks long, long ago.
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