by Brian Turrel
Two second-half defensive lapses by Sporting KC allowed the Portland Timbers to overcome an early Sporting Kansas City goal and win the Western Conference finals Thursday evening at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. The final score was 3-2 in Portland’s favor.
Forward Daniel Salloi opened the scoring in the 20th minute. Diego Rubio earned the assist, crossing the ball from the right side to the far post where Salloi collected it. Salloi’s goal capped a flurry of early activity that saw Kansas City put four shots on goal in the first 15 minutes.
Salloi put the ball in the net again in the 24th minute, but it was disallowed for obstruction of the goalkeeper. Another Salloi shot in first-half stoppage time went just over the crossbar.
Portland erased Sporting Kansas City’s advantage in the 52nd minute. Forward Sebastian Blanco launched a shot from 30 yards that found the upper corner of the goal. Portland scored again in the 61st minute on a rebound header by Diego Valeri.
The 2-1 Portland lead meant Sporting KC needed twp goals to advance in the playoff. Sporting KC picked up one of those goals in the 81st minute when Graham Zusi crossed the ball to Gerso Fernandes near the penalty spot, but Sporting KC was not able to score again. Portland’s third goal came in stoppage time as Sporting Kansas City took increasingly risky offensive positions in an attempt to win the game, which allowed midfielder Diego Valeri to score on a counterattack.
Portland will advance to the MLS Cup final against Atlanta United FC. The match will be played in Atlanta on Dec. 8.
Sporting Kansas City will start its 2019 season in February. In addition to the usual MLS and U.S. Open Cup competitions, Sporting KC will participate in the CONCACAF Champions’ League, a competition among top club teams from across North America. Sporting KC qualified for the Champions’ League based on its 2017 Open Cup championship.