Timbers players embrace each other during a team huddle. Portland was defeated in a dramatic penalty shootout in the 2021 MLS Championship. Illustration by Colleen Coover via timbers.com.

The Portland Timbers faced off against the New York City Football Club in the Major League Soccer (MLS) Cup on Saturday December 12. Despite the blustery winds and pouring rain, Providence Park was overflowing with loyal, spirited fans. A stunning equalizer in stoppage time by Felipe Mora, prominent Timbers attacking forward, kept Portland’s hopes at a championship title alive and resulted in a dramatic shift in momentum transitioning into extra time. Will Deniston, Franklin senior and varsity soccer player, describes the atmosphere after the goal in Providence Park as “electric.” However, after a tense penalty shootout under the formidable Timbers Army, NYC emerged victorious 4-2 and clinched the club’s first MLS Cup title. 

The Timbers started the game off conservatively, employing a compact defensive formation. Conversely, NYC took an aggressive approach, which proved strategically superior after Valentin Castellanos, an audacious NYC striker and 2021 MLS Golden Boot winner, scored the match opener in the 41st minute. From the whistle, tempers flared and the game quickly escalated. Fans contributed to this hostile energy as well. Following NYC’s goal late in the first half, two Timbers spectators threw beer cans towards NYC players, hitting forward Jesús Medina in the eye. The perpetrators were later charged with class 3 misdemeanors of attempted assault and disorderly behavior. 

Although the Timbers had home field advantage, one of Portland’s key players, Sebastian Blanco, entered the match tentatively with a lingering hamstring injury and was substituted out before the second half, changing the team dynamic. The Timbers failed to make adjustments at half time, which was apparent in their visibly lackluster offense early in the second half. However, as NYC continued to hammer shots on goal and exploit the holes in Portland’s defense, the Timbers finally activated their notorious counterattack, which utilizes Portland’s unpredictable playmakers such as Diego Chará instead of relying on composed possession. NYC’s goalkeeper, Sean Johnson, responded by fiercely defending the goal with numerous miraculous saves. 

Diego Valeri, a revered attacking midfielder who has played for the Timbers for over 8 years, departs the club on this devastating defeat. Deniston reflects, “it sucks but he had a good run and will remain beloved amongst Timbers fans.” Despite spending most of his time on the bench during games this season, his legacy of skillful domination and humble leadership in his dominant years will inspire future generations of footballers for years to come.  

Although Portland fell short of a fairy-tale season ending, they were hit with a barrage of unfortunate injuries early in their 2021 MLS campaign, so advancing to the league championship far exceeded the club’s expectations. The Timbers’ future remains uncertain heading into 2022, but to quote Portland’s loyal fans: “Rose City ‘til we die”.

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