SEATTLE, Wash – Portland Timbers forward Dairon Asprilla started only once in the last eight matches of the 2018 MLS regular season after struggling to score in opportunities on the pitch during mid-year. Asprilla finished the regular season with only one penalty.
But Asprilla came with everything on the line Thursday night.
The Colombia forward scored in extra time before netting a penalty to win the game to lead the Timbers through the Seattle Sounders in the wild West Semifinal series.
"Today, we show that we can do great things," Asprilla said. "But we haven't won anything yet. Now, we have to be humble because there are still many things ahead of us."
The Timbers entered Thursday's match with a 2-1 advantage after winning at home in the first leg of the series. The Sounders defeated Timbers 2-1 in regulation in front of 39,542 fans at CenturyLink Field Thursday to tie the aggregate score to 3-3 and send the game to extra time. After two teams exchanged goals in extra time, the Timbers won the series 4-2 on penalties to advance to the Western Conference Championship series.
Portland will face Sporting Kansas City or Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference Championship series. The series will begin on November 25th.
"Seattle and Portland bring the right competition for this match and that is amazing," said Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese. "There are times when they score when it seems that it will be difficult for us. Then we go back and forth, back and forth, all the way to PK. I think it produces a very good match."
Just needing a tie to ensure themselves a place at the Western Conference Championship after gaining their home foot victory from the Western Conference semifinals, the Timbers are happy to sit back and absorb pressure in Thursday's first round match.
The Sounders held 68.1 percent ownership and forced the Timbers to make 20 clearances in the first 45 minutes. Portland didn't even take the first shot on target in the game until the 60th minute when forward Jeremy Ebobisse fired straight at Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
After struggling to create dangerous chances in the first half, the Sounders came out ready to push a goal in the second half.
Seattle finally managed to penetrate an unusual path. Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella dropped a cross from Sounders midfielder Victor Rodriguez in the 68th minute, allowing Seattle forward Raul Ruidiaz to score easily. With a 1-0 advantage, the Sounders are only needed to prevent the Timbers from scoring to close the series due to away goal rules. If this series is tied on aggregate at the end of the rules, the club has more away goals, according to MLS rules.
"Obviously, you want to do everything you can to help the team and when you make a mistake like that, it hurts," Attinella said. "But as a goalkeeper, you should try to let go because you always know there is one more coming."
With time subsiding and the Timbers desperately needing a goal, the Timbers midfielder Sebastian Blanco made Portland back in the game.
Blanco got a late pass from Asprilla in the 78th minute and fired from the top of the box into the corner of the goal to tie the game at 1-1 and gave Portland a 3-2 lead on aggregate in the series.
"We believe that we can achieve great things together," Savarese said. "People fight throughout the game against a very good team. The team that wants to give us everything they have today. I am very proud of the performance of our team."
The Sounders responded to an error from Blanco in the second half of extra time. Blanco accidentally headed the ball into Ruidiaz when he tried to make a clearance in the penalty box, allowing the Peruvian forward to score with a volley to give Seattle a 2-1 lead in the match and tie the series 3-3 on aggregate.
With the series tied on aggregate and both teams holding one away goal, the game goes to extra time.
When Asprilla shines. Asprilla, who entered the match as a substitute in the 72nd minute, made a cross from Diego Valeri in the 93rd minute to make Portland 4-3 on aggregate.
But Seattle tied the series back four minutes later. Referee Jair Marrufo awarded the Sounders a penalty after Blanco made a handball in the box after a Seattle corner. Sounders midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro sent his shot into the corner of the goal to tie the series 4-4 on aggregate.
"I have two big mistakes," Blanco said. "But this is football. There are difficulties. You have to recover quickly and after that I go to the penalty (and I score). We win and every teammate helps."
When Marrufo blew the final whistle to mark the end of extra time, Blanco and several other Timbers began celebrating. The Timbers insisted after the match that they celebrated the chance to go to the penalty kick, but looked on the field as if the players thought they won because of an away tiebreaker, which was not valid in extra time. Whatever the Timbers thought at that time did not end up important.
Portland went on to beat Sounders 4-2 on penalties. Blanco and Attinella, who both made mistakes that caused a goal from Seattle during the match, appeared big on PK. Blanco scored a penalty and Attinella made a save during the shoot.
Asprilla then closed the series by firing the last penalty kick on goal.
"This is a very special moment," said Asprilla. "Thank God, we achieved everything we wanted tonight."
– Jamie Goldberg | [email protected]
503-853-3761 | @jamiebgoldberg