An early blunder from Columbus Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark was punished by Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri just 27 seconds into the MLS Cup Final and the Crew never recovered losing the title game 2-1 in Columbus on Sunday night.
When Clark dithered over a routine back pass in the game’s opening seconds Valeri pounced to block the keeper’s clearance into the goal for the early Portland lead on the fastest goal in MLS Cup history.
It got even worse for the home team in the game’s seventh minute when a sideline official somehow allowed play to continue on when the ball had clearly gone out of play for what should have been a throw-in.
Portland midfielder Darlington Nagbe kept playing taking the ball off of the foot of switched off Columbus midfielder Tony Tchani and beginning the Portland attack that finished with a Rodney Wallace goal to add to the home side’s misery.
It was a strange and sloppy start to league’s showpiece event and Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter will have to answer questions concerning his team’s lack of readiness over the long MLS off-season.
But to its credit Columbus showed the resilience to fight back and when Timbers keeper Adam Kwarasey made a gaffe of his own Kei Kamara was on hand to shoot Columbus back into this final.
Kamara had been a game-time decision after picking up a knock in training and although the big striker appeared to moving well Columbus fans will wonder if a 100 percent Kamara could have made a difference.
Columbus was energized by that lifeline giving a better account of themselves as the half went on, although they continued to be frustrated by the Timbers who weren’t allowing the Crew to play its normal game.
Influential wide players like fullback pair Waylon Francis, Harrison Afful and outside midfielder Ethan Finlay made little impact, leaving Kei Kamara starved for service while playmaker Federico Higuain was uncharacteristically inaccurate with his passing.
With strong play from the likes of rising fullback Jorge Villafana and midfielders Valeri, Nagbe and Diego Chara, Portland had the better of play in the second half and might well have added to its lead on a mad scramble in the Columbus goalmouth in the game’s 60th minute.
Liam Ridgewell flicked a corner kick into the box for Rodney Wallace to knock goalward. The shot banged off of a couple of posts before ricocheting off of Columbus captain Michael Parkhurst for what seemed a sure penalty kick.
Referee Jair Marrufo let the play go, consistent with his “let them play approach” on the afternoon, an approach that saw too many fouls and hard challenges go uncalled.
Portland continued to pepper Clark’s goal with shots and the Crew netminder came up with several stellar saves, but in the end his teammates couldn’t find a second goal and remained powerless to undo that early Clark howler.
The win gives Portland its first MLS Cup in just the club’s fifth year in Major League Soccer, and third under the direction of coach Caleb Porter, although the team goes all the way back to 1975 as a member of the original North American Soccer League.