Dario Zuparic proved to be an unlikely match winner in the second half of a closely contested MLS is Back Tournament final as the Portland Timbers claimed the victory againt Orlando City SC at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on Tuesday night.
Story of the match
After a high intensity start from both teams, it was Diego Valeri who produced the first moment of magic in the MLS is Back Final, curling a free kick from all of 40 yards out onto the head of Larrys Mabiala for the defender to power the Timbers ahead on 27 minutes.
However, their lead lasted less than ten minutes, with playmaker Nani involved heavily in Orlando's equalizer. The Portuguese star dribbled to the by-line before cutting the ball back across for Mauricio Pereyra to get his shot away at the second time of asking to strike the Lions level and see the scores 1-1 as both teams headed off the pitch for half time.
20 minutes into the second half and Portland went back in front. Dario Zuparic bundled the ball home after a corner came across to Eryk Williamson, who took his time before firing across goal. Jeremy Ebobisse touched the ball across to the central defender, who picked a perfect time to notch his first goal for the Timbers.
Valeri could have added a third after a breakaway, but the miss was not felt as the Timbers claimed the victory and the MLS is Back trophy after a 51 match tournament came to an end. As well as winning the trophy and a large portion of the prize money, the Timbers will now go into the CONCACAF Champions League in 2021 for the first time since 2016.
Takeaways from the match
Portland added another piece of silverware to the trophy cabinet with their victory on Tuesday night. However, they didn’t need the skill or brilliance from Sebastian Blanco or Diego Valeri - as has been the case over recent games in the tournament - but it was a case of the defense standing strong at the back and making the difference from set pieces. The Timbers had just over 36% of possession, but only conceded one shot on target to Orlando, who couldn't get past a defensive line lead by goalscorers Dario Zuparic and Larrys Mabiala.
It was a case of heartbreak for Orlando, who have been the surprise package of the tournament under head coach Oscar Pareja. One last victory proved elusive, ending a remarkable run from the Lions. However, they will hold their heads up high in defying the odds just getting to the final, and no doubt look to build further momentum when MLS season resumes over the next few weeks as club return to home markets.
Stand out players
For the Timbers, Diego Valeri played the full game in midfield, and shone in the No. 10 role he’s dominated for a long time in Portland. His set piece delivery for Mabiala’s opener was spectacularly accurate, and throughout the game was credited with three key passes and three shots on target. He could and perhaps should have added a third to the scoreline late on.
Orlando's goalkeeper Pedro Gallese was in fine form for the Lions in the final. He made crucial saves to keep the scoreline from getting beyond the Lion's grip, and was unlucky to be on the losing side in the final. The Peruvian made four key saves in the game and without him, the Timber's victory may have been all the more convincing.
Portland Timbers Head Coach Giovanni Savarese:
"There is a great feeling to achieve this," he said in his post match press conference. "It is a historical moment for our club. Credit to the players, because they came here with a purpose from the moment we came here from Portland. Their minds was to make sure we won one game at a time; and the unity that we had, the maturity they showed going into every single game, has been a huge accomplishment.
It was a final that was very complicated against a very good team in Orlando. They were well coached and not easy, but the guys made sure we were able to execute our plan and able to get a great victory. Now we're able to lift the trophy and the most important part - being able to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League".
When asked by VAVEL USA about the fact that his team had the Lion's share of possession - 64% in fact - but only registered one shot on target, Orlando City SC Head Coach Óscar Pareja admitted his team needs to work on breaking down teams set on defending a lead.
"I think we started well, and we had control of the game all the time. We found we played a team who clock in the last third of the field, and had a block very low. We were missing that last pass or the last play, and we tried to do it but I think they defended well.
We have to give credit to the team to has it clear - they lowered the block and we couldn't break it. We need to improve on that part, because if you have that possession and you have that amount of time with the ball, we want to be dangerous and obviously today, it was a challenge. There were many defenders on the eighteen yard line, and that created problems for us".
Portland Timbers: Clark; Duvall, Mabiala, Zuparic, Villafana, Chara, Williamson, Loria, Valeri, Blanco, Ebobisse.
Substitutes: Attinella, Polo, Mora, Niezgoda, Cascante, Conechny, Paredes, Tuiloma, Bonilla, Ivavic, Farfan, Zambrano.
Orlando City: Gallese; Teixeira, Cunha, Jansson, Moutinho, Rosell, Mendez, Meuller, Pereyra, Nani, Akindele.
Substitutes: Rowe, De John, de Almedia Jnr, Schlegel, Dike, Perea, Smith, Miller, Patino, Dezart, Barbosa.