Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers played to a scoreless draw to kick off the Western Conference final Sunday at Providence Park.
The match was punctuated by close chances from both sides, the most glaring of which was a Portland goal called back in the 70th minute. After a corner kick, David Guzman tapped in the deflected ball, seemingly giving the Timbers a late 1-0 lead. But the assistant referee raised his offsides flag, and that call stood after review.
That disallowed goal was the closest Portland would come. SKC’s defense — long considered its calling card — held steady. So instead of Portland celebrating a narrow home win, the teams will head to Kansas City even for Thursday’s second leg.
“They crossed the ball a lot, and I thought we were really solid in the box,” Kansas City manager Peter Vermes said of Portland during a conference call following the match. “And you can’t say enough about Tim and his focus and his positioning in the box and excellent saves. … We managed the game really well.”
Despite the Timbers launching 14 shots at Kansas City, none made it across the line. SKC goalkeeper Tim Melia finished with six saves.
Nov 25, 2018; Portland, OR, USA; Sporting Kansas City forward Johnny Russell (7) controls a pass as he is guarded by Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Chara (21) during the first leg of the MLS Western Conference Championship at Providence Park. (Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports)
Sporting KC settled in after Portland put on the pressure to start the first half. The Timbers’ most dangerous chance early in the match was one Melia was a tick too late for in the sixth minute – but the shot bounced off the post. Melia had two more saves in stoppage time of the first half, both rendering Timbers set pieces harmless.
The Timbers’ defense held strong as well, despite losing defender Larry Mabiala to injury just 18 minutes into the match. Mabiala was stretchered off the field and Bill Tuiloma subbed on in his place.
Fox Sports 1 reported on the television broadcast of the match that Mabiala suffered a “lower right leg injury.”
“I think the first half was a little more them, but to be expected, coming into their place,” Vermes said. “They threw a lot at us – I thought we were very disciplined in the first half.”
That discipline paid off for Kansas City, which could book a spot in the MLS Cup on Dec. 8 with a home win Thursday night. The match would go into extra time with another scoreless draw, and Portland will advance with a win or a tie of 1-1 or higher.
At home this year, Kansas City is 11-2-5, including a 3-0 victory over the Timbers in August.
“We’re a team that deserves to play this far in the playoffs,” Vermes said. “You can’t let your guard down for a second. We didn’t let our guard down, and that was the difference for us. … We understand we only played one half, and we have another half to play Thursday night.”