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Portland Timbers book first spot in MLS final with 2-1 win over Philadelphia

Orlando Sentinel logoOrlando Sentinel 8/6/2020 By Julia Poe, Orlando Sentinel
Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri playing a game of football: Portland's Sebastian Blanco (10) celebrates after scoring against the Philadelphia Union during the MLS Is Back Tournament semifinals at ESPN Wide World of Sports Wednesday. © Sam Greenwood/Getty Images/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Portland's Sebastian Blanco (10) celebrates after scoring against the Philadelphia Union during the MLS Is Back Tournament semifinals at ESPN Wide World of Sports Wednesday.

The Portland Timbers became the first team to punch its ticket to the final match of the MLS is Back Tournament, earning a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union Wednesday night.

It was a match of two stories — the one told by the statsheet and the one that played out on the field.

Statistically, the Union seemed to dominate, holding 59% of possession and firing off nine shots to force three saves. But in reality, Portland dominated the pace and style of the first half, ripping up the Union defense on the counterattack.

On the defensive end, Portland forced Philadelphia to play a disjointed style instead of their typically fluid attack. And when they reclaimed the ball, the Timbers were quick to turn to goal. This resulted in an early score after forcing a corner kick.

Diego Valeri curled the ball to the center of the box, and Jeremy Ebobisse finished it with his head, giving the Timbers a 1-0 lead in the 12th minute.

Even when they caught a break, the Union couldn’t quite finish. Jamiro Monteiro drew a foul in the box in stoppage time of the first half, handing the team a perfect opportunity to tie the match before heading into the locker room.

But Sergio Santos sent the penalty kick screeching high over the crossbar, sending Philadelphia into the break still trailing by a goal.

An almost identical series of events transpired in the second half. Philadelphia moved the ball efficiently to create several scoring opportunities that Portland goalkeeper Steve Clark and his backline neatly fended off.

After nearly 25 minutes, Portland then forced another corner kick after a transition attack forced a panicked defensive clearance. And again, that corner kick led to a header that went into the net for the Timbers — this time with service from Dario Zuparic to Sebastián Blanco in the 70th minute.

The key for Portland was an extremely compact presence on defense that prevented Monteiro, Alejandro Bedoya and Brendan Aaronson from carving up their normal spaces in the attacking third.

That defense began to crack open in the final minutes of the match, however, allowing Andrew Wooten to net a goal in the 85th minute. Minutes later, it appeared the Union had equalized when Aaronson darted into traffic and laid a ball out for Kacper Przybylko to send into the net, but an offside call preserved the lead for Portland.

The offside call was hotly contested by Philadelphia players and coaches, along with fans at home.

Despite a raucous final stretch of play, Portland held onto the one-goal lead to secure a place in the tournament final.

The championship match will be played Aug. 11. The game will kick off at 8:30 p.m. and be broadcast live on ESPN.


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