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EARLY GOALS SPARK PORTLAND TO 2-1 MLS CUP VICTORY AT COLUMBUS CREW



TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The Portland Timbers, 2015 MLS champions, celebrate after their 2-1 finals victory Sunday at Columbus.COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Portland Timbers jumped on a horribly-flat, mistake-making Columbus Crew early in Sunday’s MLS Cup and won their first league title 2-1 at Mapfre Stadium.

Most of the fireworks came early in a sometimes wild and sloppy game for both clubs.

Portland's late-season surge continued and resulted in the franchise's first MLS title. The Timbers controlled most of the play after grasping the big lead and stayed on the attack most of the way, completing a nine-game unbeaten streak to end the season.

Diego Valeri, Argentine midfielder for Portland, was named MVP of the match, and for good reason.

Before a couple thousand very happy Timbers fans in an otherwise almost-empty postgame stadium, the Timbers danced and celebrated amid fireworks and confetti.TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The Timbers celebrate in front of their rooting section after the match.

“They earned the right to have the Rose City be called Soccer City,” Commissioner Don Garber said in presenting the winner’s trophy to the team, led by owner Merritt Paulson.

It was a triumphant return to Ohio for Timbers coach Caleb Porter, who won the NCAA championship in 2010 with Akron before coming to Portland three years ago.

“It’s all the players,” he said. “It was just about the confidence and the belief. We talked about this being our year.”

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Timbers coach Caleb Porter points to Portland fans in victory.The temperature approached 50 degrees for kickoff. Portland came out in its favored 4-3-3 formation, with fullback Liam Ridgewell back in the lineup, while Columbus had its top threat, Kei Kamara, up top in a 4-2-3-1, with a twisted ankle from what he called a “freak accident” in practice on Saturday.

It took the Timbers only 27 seconds to seize the lead on a bonehead play by Columbus goalkeeper Steve Clark. With incredible nonchalance as he dribbled carelessly and horizontally, Clark allowed Portland’s Diego Valeri to steal the ball from his feet a few feet from the goal and easily knock the ball into the net for a 1-0 edge.

It was the kind of unaware mistake a third-grader wouldn’t make, but it came at the highest level of North American soccer by a 29-year-old, two-year starter on the team that won the Eastern Conference playoffs.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Lucas Melano of the Portland Timbers challenges Columbus Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark during Sunday's MLS Cup championship match in Columbus, Ohio.Then, in the seventh minute, the Crew defense went to sleep again and paid an equally heavy price. With an unbelievable lack of focus and intensity, Columbus all but quit while waiting for a whistle for a ball that went out of bounds and then gave up a multi-player Portland attack as play continued, and that resulted in Lucas Melano easily spotting Rodney Wallace with a soft cross Wallace headed into the goal, past a flat-footed Clark.

“All year, something like that hasn’t happened,” Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter said.

Portland gave one back with some atrocious defense in the box, as well.

Goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey messed up an easy ball he could have caught harmless. Instead, he was felt fumbling in air on the ground and coming up ending, as Kamara wound up for a short, low shot that went between defender Alvas Powell’s legs as Powell tried in vain to guard the line. The 16th-minute strike pulled the Crew to within 2-1.

Portland kept Columbus in the game with sloppy possession.

Later in the half, Portland’s pesky Diego Chara delivered a hidden blow to Columbus’ Justin Meram, who responded moments later with a rugby tackle on the Timbers’ Liam Ridgewell. Meram wound up being carded yellow for his response, and the teams played on.

Each team finsihed with four shots in the half, which ended with Portland still on top 2-1 as darkness began to fall.TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Rodney Wallace of the Timbers reacts to Columbus fans after scoring Portland's second goal.

The scrambling continued at various times in the second half, with the Timbers just missing opportunities to extend their lead. Fanendo Adi, Melano and others posted problems for the Crew and got in deep, only to come up empty-handed, however. Twice, the Timbers hit the post, once on a long header by Adi with 20 minutes left in regulation.

But as ineffective as was the Timbers’ finishing in the second half, their possession was better and stronger, helping them protect their lead and keep Kwarasey out of dangerous situations.

Columbus whiffed on a header a few yards from goal that could have been major trouble for Portland in the 77th minute.

Clark made a huge save in the 81st minute on a point-blank header by Timbers fullback Nat Borchers. Moments later, Clark leaped to tip a shot by a breaking Adi over the crossbar.

The rest of the game was relatively quiet, with Columbus getting a few looks in five minutes of stoppage time but unable to find the equalizer.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Portland defender Liam Ridgewell plans a kiss on the title trophy.

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