Last week, we wrote that Federico Higuaín and Diego Valeri had the power to make or break the MLS Cup final. Valeri heard us and decided to take matters into his own hands, sending a strong message en route to winning finals’ MVP: Put the pressure on. Always.
Sometimes, all you need is one moment (or 30 seconds for that matter) – one extra burst of speed out the gate to close down an opponent who will likely just blast the ball away from you anyways. It’s often futile, but in turn, that moment has the power to change the course of an entire game – of a team’s entire season. Columbus learned this lesson the hard way last night; Valeri opened the score 27 seconds into the Portland Timbers’ 2-1 win over the Crew, forcing Steve Clark into a clumsy error as the goalie attempted to play with the ball at his feet and scoring the fastest goal in the competition’s 20-year history.
The Argentine crack left us speechless, astounded and a little bit numb, and the messy madness that defined the game was only just getting started. ?
Six minutes later, the away team doubled its lead. Costa Rican midfielder Rodney Wallace – who became the first Tico to ever play in and win an MLS Cup – was the man to strike the deathblow, with Lucas Melano playing him in on a one-touch cross from the right wing. This happened only after Diego Chará had played what appeared to be a pass out of bounds.
Okay, I thought to myself: We’re setting ourselves up for an historic comeback à la Arsenal in the 2014 FA Cup final. You know, when the Gunners went down 2-0 in the opening eight minutes of the match before Santi Cazorla netted a fantastic free kick in the 17th minute and the London squad fought back to win the trophy 3-2 in OT? Yeah. No worries, Columbus fam! We’ve got this! For a while, it seemed like I might have been right. In the 17th minute, Justin Meram set Kei Kamara up for a lil’ dance around Timbers’ goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey to jumpstart la gran remontada.
This third (and eventually final) strike was noteworthy, despite profound defensive mediocrity, for a pretty cool reason: last night marked the first-ever MLS Cup with goalscorers from three different continents. Valeri struck gold for the CONMEBOL region, Wallace brought that CONCACAF thunder, and Kamara scored for the CAF.
Despite my unyielding optimism as the game progressed deep into the second half, Columbus simply could not complete a comeback. Pipita Higauín’s magic felt lost in a disorderly sea of Afful time body slams and heaven-sent saves off posts (check here and here), only seeing the light of day in a 77th-minute one-touch over his head to set up Jack McInerney for what would have been the game-tying header. So, it’s with a twinge in my heart that I announce a definitive duel scoreline of Valeri 1, Higuaín 0.
In a game characterized by grittiness, sloppiness, pure pandemonium, and maybe a little luck, the three goals that did find the back of the net could not have been more perfectly emblematic. It was chaos – perhaps “controlled” in the eyes of the victorious Timbers Army faithful – but as Grant Wahl pertinently pointed out via Twitter, it should not act as a referendum on the overall quality of play in the MLS. These dudes gave us unbelievable showings throughout the playoffs, providing us with performances that will undoubtedly remain in our minds for years to come (Decision Day? The knockout stages? Last week’s second-leg semifinals?).
The league is on an electrifying upward trajectory, and I for one am fully on board. Now, it’s just a matter of playing the waiting game until we get back underway in 2016!