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Portland Timbers’ Title Run Keyed by Depth, Defense

Wednesday, December 09, 2015


The Portland Timbers earned their first-ever MLS Cup Championship after defeating the Columbus Crew 2-1 on Sunday, much to the delight of the 2,000+ Timbers faithful who made the journey with the team and the hundreds of thousands more here in Portland watching from the Crystal Ballroom, any number of sports bars in the area, or simply from their couches. 

It was the perfect end to what turned into a dream season for Caleb Porter's squad after weathering some early difficulties and a mid-season swoon that left the team and their supporters wondering if Portland would even make the playoffs. But since a late-season tactical switch by Porter, Darlington Nagbe's potential suddenly turned into production, Fanendo Adi suddenly morphed into one of the league's top strikers, and Valeri finally began to rise to the level he displayed all through the 2013 and 2014 seasons prior to his ACL injury. 

Make no mistake however; while Valeri and Rodney Wallace provided the highlights, this Timbers team won, as they have all season, on the strength of their defense. For all the noise and print about Porter's shift to the single-pivot and Nagbe and Adi's burgeoning stardom, it was a rear guard among the best in the league that carried the Timbers while the goals were few and far between, and continued to be the constant throughout the playoff run. 

Portland's back four of Alvas Powell, Liam Ridgewell, Nat Borchers, and Jorge Villafaña along with defensive midfielder Diego Chara were immense all game, allowing only one shot on goal by a Columbus Crew squad that scored the second-most goals in the entire league this season and featured Golden Boot winner (along with Toronto's Sebastian Giovinco) Kei Kamara. 

Villafaña in particular, who is probably the most anonymous member of the Portland back line, put in a fantastic shift, absolutely shutting down MLS All-Star Ethan Finlay, who was taken out of the game so completely that Columbus subbed Finlay off in the 63rd minute. Finlay had told reporters prior to the game that “...on the right side going against Villafaña, I like that matchup.” Villafaña referenced the comments after the game, and it was clear that a little extra motivation was gained from Finlay's dismissive remarks. After the game, many media outlets felt that Villafaña was the game's true MVP.

With Villafaña taking away one side of the field, Ridgewell and Borchers were able to stay at home and do what they've done all season, clearing out any balls coming in the box and consistently winning headers that made goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey's day largely uneventful, save for one gaffe of his own that led to Columbus' only shot (and goal) of the day.

Truly though, this playoff and championship run was made even greater in that every single regular (and some not-so-regular) Timbers player had a special moment: Uruuti's extra-time goal and Adam Kwarasey's shootout performance against Kansas City, Jake Gleeson and Jack Jewsbury stepping in for Kwarasey and Chara against Vancouver, Dairon Asprilla's wonder-strike and Lucas Melano's dribble against Dallas; this run mirrored Portland's season in that it was truly a team effort from top to bottom, and I doubt Coach Porter or the Timbers faithful would have had it any other way. 

The sad reality of professional sports means that Sunday was the last time Portland will ever get to see that Timbers team play together. Monday morning it was already announced that Uruuti's option was declined by the club and he will be playing elsewhere next year; Rodney Wallace's contract expired and it is uncertain as to whether he will be back with the club, with the Timbers already committed to Asprilla and Melano for the future. 

But there will be time for that discussion in the coming days and weeks; today, the Timbers are the champions, and the city of Portland could not be more excited. 

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.


Related Slideshow: 10 Vines Celebrating the Portland Timbers Season

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The Portland Timbers took a 1-0 lead in the MLS Cup final on this error by the Columbus Crew goaltender Steve Clark and a goal by Diego Valeri The goal took 28 seconds to score and is the fastest in MLS Cup history.

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Timbers go up 2-0 on what proves to be the MLS Cup winner.

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The Portland Timbers win the MLS Cup. The first championship in team history.

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Let the celebration begin.

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Drinking from the cup.

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Timbers advance to MLS Cup Finals.

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Lucas Melano helps seal a western conference championship over FC Dallas. The Timbers advance to the MLS Cup Final.

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Fanendo Adi gets Portland on the board in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

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Timber Joey has had a lot to celebrate this season.

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Fans pour in to Providence Park


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