Portland Timbers veteran center back Nat Borchers 91st minute toe-poke goal secured the Timbers a 3-1 victory over FC Dallas on Sunday at Providence Park in the first leg of the Major League Soccer (MLS) Western Conference Finals.
Borchers followed the loose ball and managed to score despite being surrounded by three Dallas defenders and the 20-year-old goalie Jesse Gonzalez at the mouth of the net. Once the ball bounced into the net the 21,144 fans in the stands erupted.
The dramatic and chaotic late fourth overall goal in the match was a replica of how the tempo of the game was. In the beginning, the Timbers came out pressuring Dallas' defense and produced three quick shots in the first 15 minutes. The Toros registered their first chance at the 16th minute, by that time the Timbers offense had shook off the nerves. A few minutes later Portland broke the deadlock of a corner kick.
U.S. international and Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe took the corner from the right hand side. The ball dropped near the center of the box and speedster winger Dairon Asprilla flicked the ball right into no man’s land. Dallas’ goalie Gonzalez was frozen in his cleats as the ball bounced right in front of him.
Then Timbers captain Liam Ridgewell ran to the ball and passed the ball to himself with a delicate touch towards the left hand post. Gonzalez reacted to his touch and dove towards the ball. However, the 20-year-old goalie was inches short, as Ridgewell chipped the ball over his outstretched hands to give Portland the 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute.
After taking the lead, Portland continued to mount up more attacks as they created six shots in the first half. Dallas also responded after conceding the goal by setting up three of their four first half shots afterwards. However, the game also became a bit physical for the duration of the match. A total of 27 fouls, 25 tackles and three yellow cards the two clubs combined for.
Regardless of the physicality of the game, the Timbers still managed to create the best goal of the entire post-season.
The Colombian native Asprilla was starting his first games in the playoffs due to the yellow card accumulation from Rodney Wallace and he did not waste his opportunity. He was busy throughout the 90 minutes: assisting on the first goal and firing three shots, placing two of them on target.
In the second half, Asprilla intercepted a pass from a Dallas defender near the top of the penalty box. Immediately, the winger was confronted by a defender. He quickly disposed him by baiting him to the left and then suddenly the Colombian changed his direction to the right, creating space to either take a long range bomb or pass the ball.
Right away another defender stepped into the way and ended the potential pass to a cutting teammate, Lucas Melano. Asprilla wasted no time and blasted an accurate shot from almost 25 yards out.
The winger hit the ball with pace, Gonzalez started moving himself to the right hand post. However, the ball suddenly changed direction towards the upper left hand corner. The 20-year-old goalie was left hopeless as he watched the ball enter the back of the net to give the Timbers a 2-0 lead at the 53rd minute.
Providence Park was rocking after Asprilla's stunner goal that gave the Rose City the dream 2-0 lead over the number one club in the West.
However, the dream quickly turned into a nightmare when Ridgewell was forced to leave the game in the 61st minute due to a leg injury. Norberto Paparratto stepped in the match and right away Dallas capitalized on the captain leaving the game.
A minute later, Toros forward David Texeira made a darting run into the heart of the box. The space was open since Paparratto and Jorge Villafaña failed to close the space and lost track of the Uruguayan striker in the process. Dallas’ right back Je-Vaughn Watson crossed the ball into the box. Texeira met the low pass and chipped the ball into the net to cut the lead in half, 2-1 at the 62nd minute.
Dallas kept on putting pressure on the Timbers back line as they launched seven of their 11 shots in the second half. Portland’s goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey was forced to make four saves to preserve the narrow lead.
The home club was able to bounce back after losing their captain - they created eight of their 14 chances in the final 45 minutes. The Timbers displayed accurate shooting on Sunday as they placed eight of their chances on target. Gonzalez was called into action several times. He finished the game with six saves and nearly sent Dallas home with just a one goal deficit.
However, in the end, one of Portland’s eight corner kicks restored the two goal lead for the Timbers. The Toros failure to react fast enough to a set piece caught up to them again.
Borchers opportunity for the third goal spawned from another corner that Nagbe took. Dallas failed to clear the loose bouncing ball in the box and the veteran center back punished them by finishing the game 3-1.
The Timbers are now just potentially 90 minutes away from qualifying to their first trip to the MLS Cup Finals in franchise history. Portland will travel to Toyota Park next Sunday for the decisive match in the series.
The 3-1 aggregate lead gives the Timbers some breathing room against the Hoops. Since Dallas at home is nearly undefeatable this season, including the 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs the Toros has only lost twice in 18 matches.