The Portland Timbers earned the distinction of being the first - and probably last - winner of the MLS is Back Tournament following a 2-1 victory over Orlando City on Tuesday at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
Central defensive duo Larrys Mabiala and Dario Zuparic claimed the vital goals from set pieces for Portland, which secured a spot in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League with the win. The club will be making its third appearance in the continental showcase.
After 51 matches played over 35 days behind closed doors, the Timbers are crowned winners of the makeshift event designed as an alternative to regular-season matches that were canceled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Portland opened the scoring against the run of play in the 27th minute with some individual brilliance of their own. Diego Valeri was largely anonymous before the 2015 MLS MVP’s inch-perfect free-kick delivery from distance found Mabiala’s head at the back post.
Orlando equalized in the 39th minute when Pereyra was rewarded for an enterprising first half. Nani’s endline dart and cutback met the Uruguayan DP at Portland’s doorstep for his second goal of the tournament.
It was, for the most part, an entertaining affair littered with chippy moments. Sebastian Blanco, who was arguably the tournament's best player with three goals and five assists, was a frequent instigator and source of nuisance for an Orlando side that began to lose steam.
Valeri nearly scored 20 minutes after the interval when his low free-kick evaded a three-man wall and forced a stellar save from Pedro Gallese. Orlando’s Peruvian shot-stopper was put to work once more seconds later, denying Ebobisse from close range to keep the scoreline locked at a goal apiece.
Gallese got a crash course on the cruelty of sport moments later when Zuparic redirected Ebobisse’s effort following a cumbersome failure to clear Valeri’s corner kick.
The goal was emblematic of Portland's ascendancy as moxie and a rigid defensive shape outweighed an Orlando attack in the second stanza that largely looked more proficient in the lead-up to Tuesday's finale.
The MLS regular season resumes following a five-month suspension when Nashville SC visits Dallas FC on Wednesday in Texas. Both sides were dismissed from the MLS is Back Tournament without playing a match for a series of positive COVID-19 cases.