Portland beat Real Salt Lake 2-0 to reach MLS Cup final

Felipe Mora scored in the first half and Santiago Moreno in the second Saturday as the Portland Timbers beat Real Salt Lake 2-0 to reach the MLS Cup Final.

The victory in the Western Conference Final sends Portland into their third-ever MLS Cup championship match, which they will host on December 11 against either New York City FC or the Philadelphia Union.

The Timbers got off to a dream start in front of a raucous home crowd at blustery, rainy, Providence Park, grabbing a 1-0 lead five minutes into the contest.

A weak clearance attempt by Real right back Aaron Herrera of a cross from the right by Yimmi Chara landed right in front of an advancing Mora who slotted the ball past Salt Lake keeper David Ochoa.

Real had a chance to equalize in the 33rd, but Damir Kreilach’s header off a crisp cross from Herrera was denied by Portland goalkeeper Steve Clark.

So they went into the interval with Portland leading, and Moreno drove in the dagger in the 61st minute with a long-range blast that deflected off the post and Ochoa’s back into the net.

Portland nearly put it out of reach in the 68th but substitute Jaroslaw Niezgoda’s initial shot was cleared off the line and his second-chance was over the crossbar.

But Salt Lake’s hopes of another comeback stunner ended as they finished the match with 10 men after Herrera picked up his second yellow card and was sent off in the 79th minute.

“I thought the guys today were fantastic,” said Portland coach Gio Savarese, who said Moreno’s goal was crucial in a game against a Salt Lake team that had produced a stoppage time goal to beat favored Sporting Kansas City in the conference semi-finals, having already shocked the Seattle Sounders in a penalty shootout having erased an early deficit.

“We felt that we were in control, but as you know when you are only one goal difference it’s always complicated,” Savarese said. “That goal gave us the oxygen we needed in order to stay a little calmer.”

“The work from the players from beginning to end was remarkable.”

Thanks to Colombian Moreno, Savarese didn’t have to call on star Sebastian Blanco, who was available but didn’t start as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury.

Portland, who ousted Western Conference top seeds Colorado in the second round of the playoffs, are in the MLS Cup Final for the third time. They won the title in 2015 with a win over Columbus Crew and fell to Atlanta in 2018.

Next weekend they’ll host the championship match for the first time against the winner of Sunday’s Eastern Conference Final between NYCFC and Philadelphia Union.

NYCFC upset the top-seeded New England Revolution in a penalty shootout to reach the conference final in Philadelphia, where the hosts will be scrambling after 11 Union players — including five regular starters — were listed on Saturday as out due to Covid-19 protocols.

“Our players have worked tirelessly to get to this point and I know they will be brave even in the adversity that we are facing right now,” Union coach Jim Curtin said Saturday.

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