In the final of the MLS Cup in the first December weekend, Portland Timbers defeated Columbus Crew SC 2-1 to claim the first league title in the club’s history. It only took 27 seconds for Diego Valeri to score the first goal for the Timbers – and open the final with a record.
A high-pitched whistle was the signal for emotions to erupt. The moment the referee ended the final of the Major League Soccer (MLS) was also the moment for the Portland Timbers to start celebrations. The ecstatic championship-winning players hugged each other, jumped for joy and raucously celebrated the 2-1 win away in Columbus. The hosts and their fans had previously watched 90 intensive and enthralling minutes which failed to end in the hoped-for second championship win in the club’s history. For the Timbers from the US state of Oregon, it was however their first ever. “We wanted to write history and it was the night we did it,” said Portland’s defender Liam Ridgewell (31) who has 257 Premier League appearances to his name.
That the night for the Timbers was to end with Champagne being sprayed everywhere, an incredible firework display and confetti raining down from the skies was all down to a whirlwind start and a bit of help from Columbus’ goalkeeper Steve Clark. Trying to clear a back pass, the keeper only struck the onrushing Diego Valeri. The ball bounced off the striker and rolled into the net – and it all happened after only 27 seconds. It was the quickest goal in the final in the 20-year history of the MLS. Valeri, who was voted the most valuable player, could hardly believe his luck and was immediately engulfed by his teammates. After the blunder in the biggest game of the season, a stunned Clark could only look into the night skies in disbelief, “This is completely on me,” he said at the end.
The Columbus fans amongst the 21,747 sell-out crowd were just as shocked at the dreadful start to the final as the players. With the shock of going a goal behind beginning to die down, the dreams of winning the championship plunged again when a Rodney Wallace header put the Timbers 2-0 up. It was totally in keeping with the disastrous evening as the ball had previously crossed the sideline and the goal should not have counted. Though the team, which is coached by the former Bundesliga player Gregg Berhalter, fought its way back into the game after the two setbacks, all they could manage was a single goal scored by the top striker Kei Kamara (18th). They then had to endure watching the big Timbers party in their own stadium and congratulate the fifth-placed team in the regular season on their triumph. There was nothing they could do to hide their sadness. “It’s difficult. Obviously we wanted to bring a championship to this city and we wanted them to see it first hand in our stadium and it’s disappointing,” said Berhalter. The coach thanked the fans who had turned up in their numbers in yellow jerseys and in doing so created an impressive sight in the stands
Though it was highly disappointing, the coach and players all demonstratively backed goalkeeper Clark whose early mistake forced them to chase the game. “This isn’t on Steve, it’s on all of us. He’s a leader and it’s almost the way we play puts him in that position. We love him to death. You saw some of the plays he made today and he had a hell of a year,” said teammate Justin Meram.
Whilst the downcast Columbus players were still trying to come to terms with the defeat, the Timbers players had long transferred the celebrations from the pitch to the changing room. Champagne was spraying everywhere, loud music reverberated around the room in which the players were dancing wildly with the cup. Club owner Merritt Paulson was a witness of the “surreal” scene and, talking in the catacombs that had been transformed into a disco, he gave people an insight into the thoughts and feelings he had been having in the previous weeks: “I didn’t say much but I felt we’d win the cup. And we’ve done it.”
Rodney Wallace, the scorer of the second goal, looked back a little further. The 27-year old has played for Timbers ever since making his MLS debut in 2011and is proud of the development both have made – one that has been rewarded with the league title: “It’s a special moment and I even chipped in with a goal. I’ve been here for five seasons and it was the aim the whole club had. We’ve now got the trophy and are all champions, the whole city. We just have to enjoy it all.”