RSL beat Portland for the fourth time this year, this time with a 1-0 decision in the second leg of the Western Conference Championship at a raucous JELD-WEN Field on a chilly Sunday night. RSL advance to the league’s championship game for the second time in franchise history and the first time since 2009 by an aggregate total of 5-2. RSL will face Sporting Kansas City, who defeated Houston in the Eastern Conference Championship, at Sporting Park on December 7th.
“I think for me, the most rewarding thing is not about getting back to the MLS Cup," said head coach Jason Kreis. "The most rewarding thing is that finally this group has won a trophy. Another trophy. Frankly, in my honest opinion, and I’m sure it’s not everybody’s – This team deserves more trophies than they have. They’ve put themselves in a position to win so many times, and it’s just been unfortunate not to. So I think that this is a very deserved trophy. Both, for what we have done over the regular season and certainly in the playoffs, but more so for what we’ve done now for five years in a row.”
“It feels great," said captain Kyle Beckerman. "I think anytime when you get in the playoffs, you have a legitimate shot. We’ve just kept at it, kept at it, and I think we learned from the past, losing some games, we learned from it. We had chances where we had to come together, or just falter, and we came together, and here we are.”
Despite relentless pressure early and often by the Timbers – who were attempting to overcome a two-goal deficit after a 4-2 loss at Rio Tinto Stadium in the first leg two weeks ago – RSL virtually sealed their trip to Kansas City when Robbie Findley scored in the 29th minute. The early goal not only deflated an eager Timbers side but put an exclamation point on RSL’s dominance over the Timbers in 2013; in six games Portland were outscored 13-8 and only able to earn two draws.
The Timbers' already daunting challenge was made nearly impossible after Findley was there to clean up a Luis Gil shot that Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts was unable to field cleanly after a RSL counter attack.
“I’ve said it all year long, that we brought Robbie Findley back because he’s capable of scoring a goal in the biggest moments," said Kreis. "We’ve had forwards over the past couple of years that, frankly, score the goals in the soft games, but not necessarily when all the chips are down. Robbie’s waited for the exact right time to find his best form, for sure.”
Portland certainly had their chances to make things interesting with an early goal.
In the second minute, defender Pa Modou Kah got on the end of a corner kick for a clean header but it was offline to the right.
Portland’s first apparent goal was waved off for a foul in the 15th minute after a corner-kick header by Mamadou “Futty” Danso. And in the 33rd minute, another Danso goal on a free kick was disallowed, this time when the big central defender was caught offside.
In the second half, with RSL happily pulling their lines back, not many dangerous chances came for either team.
Portland got an opportunity at getting on the board at least when Darlington Nagbe made a run down the middle of the park and slid a pass to an open Will Johnson just inside the area. But Johnson’s 68th-minute blast was pushed well wide. Urruti fired off a long shot in the 84th minute that was shepherded easily by RSL ‘keeper Nick Rimando.
RSL nearly added to their impressive total in the 72nd minute when Findley fired off a shot from the left side of the box after a through pass from Javier Morales, but Ricketts was there for the save.
In the end, RSL’s defense was more than up to the task of turning away Portland’s attack. Portland forced RSL ‘keeper Rimando into action just twice.
"We wanted to come here and win," said goalkeeper Nick Rimando. "We didn’t want to come here and drop back and lose 1-0. We wanted to come in here and get a result. We’ve done it before, in the past, and the guys in this locker room have the confidence to go in there and do that. As a result, I think we deserve to be in the Cup. We fought hard, not just this game, but the first leg against Los Angeles. The commitment from all these guys, that they put in, has been paying off, and it feels great. We’re going to enjoy tonight, but we know we have a tough, tough task at hand playing against Kansas City.”