Columbus Crew SC became the first team to lose MLS Cup on home field since the league had awarded the game to the team with the best record, falling to the visiting Portland Timbers 2-1 before a sold out MAPFRE Stadium.
Portland opened with the fastest goal in MLS Cup history with Steve Clark doing the damage with a careless touch that dropped into the path of Diego Valeri and caromed into the Crew SC goal. At 27 seconds it was the fastest goal in MLS Cup history and gave the visitors the perfect start and a 1-0 lead to quiet the capacity partisan crowd.
Timbers struck again to double the lead in the seventh minute as Columbus made another mental error after a blown call. Replays showed that the Timbers appeared to lose possession on the touchline with the ball going well over the line. Waylon Francis and Tony Tchani froze to argue the call and Portland played on. Lucas Melano would get an uncontested cross and Rodney Wallace powered home the header and MAPFRE was absolutely stunned.
It was a moment marred when the Timbers collected near the Nordecke. The members of partisan crowd pelted the celebrating players with beer cans and even a flag onto the field until the Portland players retreated from the corner.
With the crowd angry and pensive and the team reeling, Columbus desperately needed anything positive. A steady diet of possession brought the crowd back into it, building to a goal that would get he Crew SC would get the goal to make it a game in the 16th minute. Columbus had finally found the game with a bit of possession and swung the ball wide to the right side and the feet of Harrison Afful. His cross chipped high and Portland keeper Adam Kwarasey flubbed the catch under pressure of Kamara and the ball spilled in the six yard box. The mass of players stuck boots in, but again Kamara dug it out, turned, and fired into the net to bring Columbus back into a game that threatened to get out of hand.
Both teams settled into a high energy, but low skill, game befitting a Cup final. Referee Jair Marrufo let play go and the teams responded with heavy challenges an rugged play. The only yellow card went to Harrison Afful for a gridiron tackle in response to Kamara getting hit with a hard tackle.
Crew SC's hopes were nearly buried in the 60th minute as they dodged what would have been a killer goal from the visiting Timbers. Valeri sent in a dangerous cross that Liam Ridgewell nodded on. Rodney Wallace's shot was saved off the line, in part by a Kamara clearance that pounded off the crossbar and a Michael Parkhurst handball. More danger came ten minutes later with Darlington Nagbe's cross off the counter finding Fanendo Adi. His header hit the post and bounced off of Clark and out for a corner. Danger averted again.
With Columbus still pushing for the tying goal, Gregg Berhalter made a couple substations to try and put more pressure on the Timbers stalwart backline. Cedrick Mabwati came in for Ethan Finlay, who never found his legs in the 63rd minute. Jack McInerney replaced Tchani, who had lost his.
With the field tilted towards Crew SC's offensive end and a loud home crowed, Columbus wasn't able to create the chances to really test Kwarasey in goal. In the last 20 minutes, Columbus managed three shots, none from inside the box. The Timbers blocked two of them. The vaunted Portland backline closed it out.
A season that had started with MLS Cup hopes died in MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium. It's hard to say the season was a disappointment. The stands were full like they rarely were before and the community connected with this club in a way that bodes well for the future on and off the field. The Cup was that close, but ended up just too far away.
The 2016 MLS preseason opens on January 22nd.