After five weeks and 51 games in the bubble in Central Florida, the MLS is Back Tournament title belongs to the Portland Timbers.
Goals from central defenders Larrys Mabiala and Dario Zuparicon on either side of halftime were enough for the Timbers to eke past tourney “host” Orlando City 2-1 in Tuesday’s hard fought finale, which was played 34 days after the one-off event — created to restart the MLS following a four-month, coronavirus-caused hiatus — began on the Walt Disney World campus.
And it was the Timbers’ center backs — and not all-league attackers Sebastian Blanco and Diego Valeri — who provided the magic. Mabiala opened the scoring in the 27th minute, powering home his header off a pinpoint Valeri free kick:
Yet the Lions, the poster children for disappointment and mismanagement after failing to make the MLS Cup playoffs in each of their first five seasons after entering the United States and Canada’s top flight in 2015 but who have looked like anything but in 2020 under first-year coach Oscar Pareja — evened things up again before the first half was over.
Following some shifty moves by star attraction Nani to get free, pocket-sized (5-foot-5) playmaker Mauricio Pereyra corralled a cross from the former Manchester United winger and tourney MVP candidate to poke home the tying goal:
Portland’s superior depth and experience prevailed in the end, though, with the Timbers restoring their advantage for good with about a half-hour to play when Zuparic scored the winner from the doorstep.
Once again, the goal began with a set piece from Valeri. This time the Argentine playmaker’s service found Eryk Williamson, whose shot was redirected by fellow up-and-comer Jeremy Ebobisse. The ball eventually fell to Zuparic, who steered the winner past Lions keeper Pedro Gallese at point-blank range:
The victory marks the Timbers second after their 2015 MLS Cup triumph over the Columbus Crew. Portland also reached the league’s championship match two years ago, losing to Atlanta United.