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Sporting KC 2-3 Portland: Blanco stunner helps Portland to finals

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The home side dominated the opening 45 minutes, but were downed in part by an absolutely stunning goal as Sebastian Blanco‘s incredible long-distance snipe helped send 5th-seeded Portland into the MLS Cup final after a 3-2 second-leg victory over top seed Sporting KC. The victory followed a 0-0 result in the first leg from Portland that left Sporting KC vulnerable to the away goals rule, and that they were, with the third goal from Diego Valeri only coming deep into stoppage time with Kansas City pouring forward knowing they needed another with the score level at 2-all.

The game was a tale of two halves, as Portland was snuffed out in the first half as Kansas City proved the better team. After the break, the visitors turned the game on its head, with Blanco’s stunner the start. Diego Valeri provided the second, cancelling out a pair from Daniel Salloi and Gerso.

Sporting KC was in control across the opening 20 minutes, and earned an opener as a result. With four shots on target already on the board, the hosts took advantage of a trio of defensive mistakes by Portland, with Salloi capping off a scrappy finish. Johnny Russell looked to get around Liam Ridgewell down the right, and the Portland defender accidentally tapped the ball towards the middle of the box. That allowed Diego Rubio to feed Salloi, and his cross to the far post left Jeff Attinella in no-man’s land and saw Salloi finish it off past Zarek Valentin hoping to guard the line.

KC continued its dominant play, and looked to have a second as Salloi headed in off a corner, but it was whistled out for a foul on Ike Opara who attempted to back down Attinella as the ball floated into the far corner.

Diego Valeri had a hamstring scare in the 26th minute, and while he eventually came back on, Portland hardly saw a touch of the ball past the half-hour mark. KC had another goal ruled out in first-half stoppage time as Rubio slammed home a one-on-one finish after Russell fed him through, but the flag correctly went up to pull it back. Salloi was injured in the buildup, drawing a yellow card for David Guzman and leaving the goalscorer in a heap.

After halftime, Portland still needed a moment to get them back into the game, and they got that moment. Blanco unleashed the goal of the playoffs, a right-footed curler with space at the top of the box.

Portland took that moment of brilliance and built on it, flipping the game upside-down and earning a second, shocking the home fans and finishing things off. Valeri was the man to finish it off, with his head after Tim Meila had tapped the ball into the air as Jeremy Ebobisse looked to be through on goal.

On the hour mark, fans at Children’s Mercy Park began to throw trash onto the field, at which point the referee pulled the players off the field momentarily. Kansas City manager Peter Vermes was livid at those in attendance, screaming at fans to cut it out and let them finish the game. They returned to the field a few minutes later, and referee Mark Geiger was then in the spotlight as he awarded KC a free-kick inches outside the left edge of the box after Zarek Valentin fouled Gerso Fernandes, with the home side screaming for a penalty.

The game picked up in pace as Sporting KC needed two goals to advance and the panic set in. A 78th minute long-ball for substitute Gerso but was just out of reach with fellow sub Krisztian Nemeth ready to pounce. They’d draw back level with nine minutes to go as Gerso was the man to even it up . That ignited the game as it charged towards full-time, but it also brought sloppiness as KC became more desperate. Despite nine minutes of stoppage time, they had little left in the tank. A charging Gerso had the best chance, but obliterated the ball miles over the bar. The game was killed off as the Timbers caught the hosts poured forward, and on the break with nobody back, Chara found Valeri free for the third goal.

Portland 0-0 Sporting KC: Scrappy game ends goalless

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A physical, spunky game ended goalless at Providence Park after both teams had pockets of chances, but neither could create moments of true opportunity as the Portland Timbers and Sporting KC head to the second leg yet to find an opener.

The game was sizzling from start to finish, as Portland nearly grabbed the opener just five minutes in. A poor clear fell to Sebastian Blanco at the top-left corner of the box and he hit a speculative low effort on net that was aimed perfectly at the far post, but it struck the woodwork and skidded just out, along the face of goal.

Things slowed after that, and Portland lost Larrys Mabiala to a right leg injury, with the French defender forced off in the 19th minute. He was assisted off without putting any weight on his right leg, and had to be stretchered to the locker room. Portland remained in the ascendency, pressing the visitors into making mistakes in possession.

The game grew in physicality as both teams looked to use strength to retain possession. Portland again had a chance as some beautiful build-up play from one end to the other, including a back-heel from Jeremy Ebobisse that sprung Dairon Asprilla down the right. His cross to Diego Valeri was just under hit, and under challenge from a defender the chance evaporated on the break. The Timbers pummeled Tim Meila’s net towards the end of the first half, but the game reached the break scoreless.

Right out of halftime, KC had its best chance yet, and flubbed it. Johnny Russell came charging onto a loose ball into the box, and with the goal gaping, blasted it miles over the bar. Daniel Salloi had acres of space to shoot in the 57th minute on the break, but three Portland defenders closed it down and blocked the eventual effort. Down the other end, Jorge Villafana went down in the box under pressure from Russell but the referee waved play on, confirmed by VAR.

It appeared that Portland had the opener in the 70th minute as a set-piece turned into mayhem at the far post before David Guzman tapped it into the back of the net, but the assistant referee’s flag went up for offside, which replay confirmed was the correct call. The hosts had another huge chance in the 81st minute on a corner, as substitute Bill Tuiloma powered a thumping header towards the top-left corner, but Meila was there for a spectacular leaping save.

KC had one big chance right at the end of regulation, but Salloi’s effort in gobs of space to the right of the penalty spot was blocked on its way in. That would be the final opportunity, as the teams combined for 23 shots, seven on target, numbers that felt low for the flow of the game. The Timbers will feel they missed a chance to gain an advantage despite a shot disparity of 6-1 on target, but they held Kansas City without an away goal.

Portland outlasts Seattle in gripping playoff second leg

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Portland and Seattle staged a second leg befitting of their rivalry, as the Timbers knocked their rivals out of the MLS Cup Playoffs with a gripping win in Seattle early Friday.

A chaotic ending put the match in extra time, where Dairon Asprilla sent a bullet header into the back of the goal off a Diego Valeri cross to make it 4-3 on aggregate only to see a penalty make it 4-4 four minutes later.

Will Bruin hit the post with Seattle’s second penalty attempt and Jeff Attinella stopped Osvaldo Alonso on the next Seattle attempt. Stefan Frei stopped Liam Ridgewell‘s winning bid, but could only get a hand on Asprilla’s winning hit.

The triumph sets Portland up for a meeting with either Real Salt Lake or Sporting KC in the Western final.

[ MORE: Louisville City defends USL Cup title ]

The Sounders entered the match down 2-1 but holding an away goal. That meant 1-0 would be enough for them to get into the conference finals, and an awful Portland mistake put them in the catbird seat.

Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella bungled a cross and left it on the doorstep for Raul Ruidiaz, who made it 2-2 on aggregate in the 68th minute. Seattle, as it stood, was headed back to the Western finals.

Enter Sebastian Blanco.

The Argentine took a lay-off from Dairon Asprilla and hit a low ball that caught Stefan Frei in a hard place.

Portland was back in front, though the Timbers were denied a bid to close the match out via Frei’s in-tight denial of Lucas Melano.

Stoppage time made it 2-1 to Seattle, when Ruidiaz unleashed this beauty following a weak headed clearing attempt from Blanco.

The match went to extra time, and Valeri’s long cross was met at the back post by the leaping Asprilla.

The score line stayed the same for less than four minutes, as a Blanco handball sent Lodeiro to the spot and the Sounders star did not miss his chance to make it 4-4.

Ruidiaz had a goal pulled back for a handball as the match continued to deliver drama en route to kicks.

Some Timbers players celebrated after extra time, apparently thinking they advanced via away goals (away goals in extra time are no longer a tiebreaker). That’s… problematic.

Portland topples Seattle 2-1 in first playoff leg

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The Seattle Sounders knew their 2-seed meant nothing in a Cascadia matchup between two heated rivals. The Sounders took an early lead but squandered that not long after and slumped to a 2-1 defeat in the first leg of their Major League Soccer playoff matchup.

Still, the early strike could prove valuable as the Sounders head home with an away goal as Christian Roldan somehow squirted a cross through the legs of Bill Tuiloma just 10 minutes in and found Raul Ruidiaz who roofed it with the side of his foot at the near post.

[ MORE: Columbus tops NY Red Bulls 1-0 ]

That proved valuable as the Sounders struggled to contain Portland on the counter, which would prove fruitful for the hosts seven minutes later. On the run, Diego Valeri threaded in Jeremy Ebobisse who dinked it over a charging Stefan Frei. With the scoreline all tied up, Seattle continued to control possession, but coughed it up on the break again on the half-hour mark.

Valeri somehow found a gap straight down the heart of the Seattle defense and while his run was finally stopped by Chad Marshall at the penalty spot, it trickled to Sebastian Blanco who stepped past a defender onto his left foot and awkwardly skidded the ball across the face and inside the far post.

There was little of note in the second half, as Portland locked things down. Seattle maintained 56% possession throughout the match and out-passed Portland 531-425, but could only muster nine shots, three on target. The Sounders now head back home with a valuable away goal but still with work to do. In their only meeting at CenturyLink Field during the regular season, Portland took home a 3-2 win on a 74th minute Larrys Mabiala goal.

Timbers tops RSL to clinch playoffs, Galaxy now controls destiny

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The Western Conference playoff picture has become more clear after the Portland Timbers clinched a playoff spot by topping Real Salt Lake 3-0.

The victory not only secured a berth for Portland, but it also left RSL in a position of vulnerability. The LA Galaxy won at Minnesota 3-1 with Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the scoresheet, pulling within a point of RSL, who is done for the regular season, meaning the Galaxy controls its own destiny.

Portland put together a comprehensive performance, disappointing from RSL’s perspective with the playoffs on the line. 15 minutes in, Diego Valeri chipped in a free-kick and defender Larrys Mabiala made a run at the back post for the tap-in. Portland defended well for the rest of the first half, and while the visitors dominated the first part of the second half, they conceded again past the hour mark through another unlikely culprit in Diego Chara. On the counter, Chara made a storming run down the middle, and after collecting a Sebastian Blanco pass, he touched past a charging Nick Rimando and finished cooly. The third came from Blanco with three minutes to go to put the cherry on top of a solid overall performance.

Los Angeles picked up a vital three points thanks to a ruthless attack. Ibrahimovic headed home a beautiful looping cross from Rolf Feltscher right on the half-hour mark, and the Galaxy went up for good.

In the second half, a ridiculous four-minute stretch saw three goals in succession. First, Ola Kamara was denied on the doorstep by Michael Boxall, but seconds later he poked in an Ashley Cole cross at the near post for LA’s second. The third came just one minute later as Minnesota turned it over in their own defensive third, and Ibrahimovic crossed to Roman Alessandrini for an absurd volleyed finish. Minnesota got a consolation just two minutes later through Angello Rodríguez, but it wasn’t enough.

So, the playoff picture is thus: Portland is in with 54 points. RSL is currently in the playoffs, but their regular season is finished with 49 points. The Galaxy, therefore, sit below the cut line on 48 points but have a meeting with Houston next weekend for all the marbles. They need to win to advance to the playoffs, as a draw would leave them with one fewer win, the first tiebreaker.