Portland Timbers' game plan to attack early paid off says Valeri, Porter

The Portland Timbers had a plan to attack early in their first MLS Cup appearance. They didn't expect it to work to perfection so quickly.

Diego Valeri scored 27 seconds after the opening whistle for the fastest goal in MLS Cup history to stun Columbus Crew SC and their home fans.

A second goal in the seventh minute by Rodney Wallace provided all the scoring the Timbers needed to beat the Crew 2-1 on Sunday for their first league title.

The first goal came when Columbus midfielder Wil Trapp sent a back pass to goalkeeper Steve Clark, who tried to move the ball from his right foot to the left for a clearance. But Clark didn't see Valeri closing and the midfielder poked the ball away from him and into the goal.

"We knew the aggressiveness the first 20 minutes from us had to be there," Valeri said. "We tried to be aggressive and pressure them."

The Crew had barely recovered when a mental gaffe gave Portland a controversial second goal.

Crew midfielder Tony Tchani and several teammates stopped playing when the ball rolled several feet over the right boundary. Instead of a stoppage for a throw-in, Portland's Darlington Nagbe kept going with the ball and sent a pass wide to Lucas Melano, who found Wallace for the header.

Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter said he did not see the play, but knew one thing, "In professional sports you play to either the ball is out of bounds or to the whistle."

Crew captain Michael Parkhurst immediately gathered his teammates at midfield to settle them down before play resumed.

"Of course, I'm disappointed with the loss," Parkhurst said. "No one envisioned that. We just said this is not how our season is going to end."

Kei Kamara, the Crew star who tied for the MLS regular-season lead in goals with 22, made it 2-1 in the 18th minute off a poor punch of the ball by Timbers goalkeeper Adam Larsen Kwarasey.

But that was the only shot on target among the nine Columbus took in the match -- a stat Berhalter would not hold against his valiant side.

"That's the funny thing about soccer. There's chances and half chances. I think we were close," Berhalter said after the match.

"There weren't many clear-cut chances, that's for sure. And give Portland a lot credit. That's a strength of Portland. They had a good defense all year. We knew that it would be difficult."

Berhalter admitted that the two goals conceded early was ultimately too much for the hosts to overcome, but paid tribute to his side and vowed to use the loss as a learning experience.

"You're in a very difficult situation where you down 2-0 in a final seven minutes into the game," he said. "I'm watching the end of the game and we're still trying to find pockets of space to hurt the opponent.

"To me, we did stay true to our identity. We could've executed better, there's no question. I'm proud of these guys, I'm proud of the season they had and it's a good group. We're going to learn from this and it's going to make us better."

Triumphant Portland manager Caleb Porter agreed with his counterpart, saying that Valeri and Wallace's goals gave the Timbers the advantage to set the tempo of the match.

"We were never in danger," Portland coach Caleb Porter said. "We were comfortable. We were tight. We saw the game out. We shut it down. That's a part of winning."

The victory capped a three-year mission for Porter, who led the University of Akron to an NCAA title in 2010 before leaving in August 2012 to join the Timbers.

"All I could think about [at the final whistle] was sharing that moment with my players," he said. "We've been through a long season and shared the highs and lows.

"We haven't always gone on long winning streaks, but when we do lose, we respond and get big wins and that's what we did this year, every time I think people thought that we were down and out, we pop up with a big result, the players deserve credit for that, that shows their character.

"We knew that if we could get hot and start scoring goals, that we had a very strong mentality in this team and we had a good defensive backbone this year and I wasn't worried about the goals because I knew that we were capable of scoring goals. We showed that in 2013 and 2014, we had the shots, all the evidence was there.

"It just took a game like LA where we opened the floodgates and built some confidence and we never looked back."

ESPN FC's Doug McIntyre contributed to this report.