Disney World likes to advertise itself as the most magical place on earth, and luckily for Portland Timbers, they’ve exploited enough of that magic to win the MLS is Back tournament in Orlando, Florida.
Team Timbers beat Orlando City 2-1 in the final on Tuesday night, passing Cinderella’s round in an unusual tournament staged in a “bubble” at Disney World where the teams were COVID-19 can be avoided.
As the last runner-up, Timbers won a spot for the CONCACAF Champions League next year and could attempt to win a regional representation at FIFA̵7;s Club World Cup.
“This will be a great memory for us,” said Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese of the league title. “It’s special, it’s unique and we can lift this trophy, giving us the ability to play outside of the US. That is a special feeling. Who knows if there will be another tournament like this, but we are proud to hand another trophy to Portland. ”
Dario Zuparic, the midfielder who signed with Timbers ahead of the 2020 season, picked up a great moment to score his first MLS goal, marking the winner of the crucial match. Diego Valeri took a corner in the 66th minute, tackled by Eryk Williamson and fired from inside the box. His shot missed Jeremy Ebobisse’s foot, and Zuparic redirected the ball into the box.
Timbers opened the scoring in the 27th minute on another situation. Valeri took a swivel free-kick in the box and Larrys Mabiala did a good job of getting his defender João Moutinho out of the way, and putting the ball in the box. It was the eighth goal of Mabiala’s career for Timbers.
Orlando equalized 12 minutes later. Orlando’s most influential player in the tournament, Nani, dribbled late in the game and sent a low-range pass to Mauricio Pereyra at the top of the box. Williamson missed his tack and Pereyra did a great job of getting past goalkeeper Steve Clark.
“You know, I’ve always thought that the harder the war, the better the victory,” said Mabiala. “In the end, we went through many difficult matches, especially our last two against Orlando and Philadelphia. They tested us very hard, but the fact that we got through this opposition shows we have a lot of personality and courage. “
The month-long MLS is Back tournament was held in Orlando, where teams gathered at Disney World resorts and played games in the empty stadiums at the ESPN Worldwide Sports Complex. A tournament is a tough one where teams play every few days in the wet Florida heat.
Timbers are not a favorite, with experts and scientific models giving them low odds to last. But Timbers defied expectations, when Savarese told The Oregonian / OregonLive ahead of the final: “We don’t play for commentators, we don’t play for writers.”
“There is a great feeling hitting a historic moment for our club,” Savarese said after Tuesday’s victory. “Credit the players because they came here with purpose right from the moment we came from Portland. The thought was to play game by game and everyone showed, game by game, the unity we had. “
In addition to a place at the CONCACAF Champions League, the players were lured by bounties of up to $ 1.1 million, including the guaranteed $ 300,000 that Timbers won for being the last-placed team. Sebastian Blanco then joked that his family deserved the bonus 40 days after his departure.
But kicking off the tournament amid the deadly COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy.
Initial negotiations between the league of MLS players and the federation became fierce, with the federation threatening to close. The two sides came to an agreement, which included quarantining the players for shorter periods than would have been expected of the tournament, and the subsequent COVID-19 outbreak that forced FC Dallas and Nashville SC to leave the tournament immediately. after they got to the MLS the bubble came back.
“Personally, I have three children, two toddlers, and the past 10 days has been very hard because every morning I see my son calling, crying and asking when I come back,” Mabiala said. “It is so difficult. We just tell ourselves we need to make it worthy – we don’t want to go away for so long and go back to our homes without the trophy. “
The unusual nature of the tournament raised concerns that the players might not be fully involved, but Timbers’ run to the final was marked by an intense desire to win.
Things got tense in the 32nd minute of Tuesday’s final when Blanco walked up to the side of Orlando coach Oscar Pareja and confronted him while making a hand gesture that seemed to force guilty Pareja ran mouth. Referee Ismail Elfath scolded Blanco and watched Blanco and Pareja settle their dispute.
Towards the final, Savarese decided to stick with what was done, unchanged from the starting lineup that beat Philadelphia Union in the semi-finals.
Orlando has also been very consistent. The Lions starting line-up in the final matchup is the same as the previous three and out of their 11 appearances, nine of them started all seven of the tournament.
The actual host of the tournament, Orlando City has never made it through the MLS Cup knockout round since joining the tournament in 2015. But Pareja, the first year coach for the Lions, transformed a team the figure was not significantly different from the lineup. finished in second to final place last year.
The focus now shifts to the regular MLS season, which will take place on Wednesday when FC Dallas will host Nashville SC – with a limited number of fans in the stands.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber said fans will be allowed to play the game in some markets allowed by the local government, although medical experts largely warn that it is not safe for crowds to gather in when the coronavirus is not controlled. Timbers have not been asking for permission to host their first home game back.
“I’m confident we have a good plan,” Garber told ESPN’s Taylor Twellman when asked Tuesday about his decision to organize fans this season, without specifying specific protocols for for fans. “We just need to get started, Taylor. We have to go back and see if it works. If it does, we will move on and if not, we will have to fix the problem. ”
Timbers’ regular season begins in March with a win and a loss before the season is suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The MLS is Back group stage, which Timbers ended with two wins and one draw, counts into the regular season.
Timbers’ first match outside of the MLS bubble MLS is Back will take place on August 23 against the Seattle Sounders in a secluded stadium.
They will then play a match every three days until September 6. The official season schedule for the MLS is not set outside that time, but Garber said he hopes for the playoffs and the MLS Cup. will take place before the year ends.
– Caitlin Murray for The Oregonian / OregonLive
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