Disney World loves to market itself as the most magical place on earth, and luckily for the Portland Timbers, they harnessed so much of that magic to win the MLS is Back tour in Orlando, Florida.
The Timbers defeated Orlando City 2-1 in the final of the tournament on Tuesday night, overcoming a Cinderella run through an unusual one-time tournament organized in a “bubble” at Disney World, where teams could avoid COVID-19.
As the last standing team, the Timbers have earned a point in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League and could strive for a place to represent the region in the FIFA World Cup.
“For us it will be a great memory,”; Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said of winning the tournament. “Special special, it is unique and we are able to lift this trophy that gives us the opportunity to compete outside the United States. It is a special feeling. Who knows if there will be another tournament like this, but we are proud to give Portland another trophy. “
Dario Zuparic, the center-back who signed with the Timbers before the 2020 season, chose a great moment to score his first goal in the MLS, scoring the main winner of the game. Diego Valeri served a corner kick in the 66th minute, which Eryk Williamson placed and shot from inside the penalty area. His shot deflected Jeremy Ebobisse into the net, and Zuparic’s dribbled through the middle.
Timbers opened the scoring in the 27th minute in another set. Valeri sent a free kick in high over the penalty box and Larrys Mabiala made a good save on João Moutinho’s hard shot to the top corner. Mabiala’s eighth career goal for the Timbers.
Orlando equalized 12 minutes later. Orlando tournament most influential player Nani knocked down the last edge and shot a low cross to Mauricio Pereyra at the top of the 6-yard box. Williamson missed his training session and Pereyra did well to fire past goalkeeper Steve Clark.
“You know, I always think the harder the fight, the more beautiful the victory,” Mabiala said. In the end, we went through a lot of tough games, especially the last two against Orlando and Philadelphia. They tested us a lot, but the fact that we have been through this opposition showed that we have a lot of personality and character. “
The MLS Monthly Tournament is Back hosted in Orlando, where teams were seized at Disney World resorts and played games in empty stadiums at the ESPN World Wide Sports Complex. The tournament was an exhausting guarantee, with teams playing every day in the wet heat of Florida.
The Timbers were not favorites, with experts and scientific models giving them low chances of reaching the bottom. But Timbers opposed the expectations, saying Savarese to Oregonian / OregonLive before the final: “We do not play for commentators, we do not play for writers.”
“It’s a great feeling to reach a milestone for our club,” Savarese said after Tuesday’s victory. “Credit to the players because they came here with a purpose from the moment we arrived from Portland. The idea was to take it one game at a time and everyone demonstrated, game by game, the unity we had.”
In addition to a place in the CONCACAF Champions League, the players were also enticing with up to $ 1.1 million in prize money, including a $ 300,000 guaranteed Timbers earned to be the last standing team. Sebastian Blanco later joked that his family deserved the prize money after he was gone for 40 days.
But launching the tour amid the deadly COVID-19 pandemic was not easy.
Early talks between the MLS players’ union and the league came to an unforgettable turn, with the league threatening a shutdown. The two sides agreed, which included quarantine players for a shorter period than the required championship, and the COVID-19 outbursts later forced FC Dallas and Nashville SC off the tournament shortly after arriving in MLS is again a bubble.
“Personally I have three children, two are small children and the last 10 days have been very difficult because I had my son calling me every morning, crying asking when I would be back,” Mabiala said. “It was difficult. We just told ourselves that we should make it worthwhile – we do not want to run away for so long and return home without the trophy. “
The unusual nature of the tournament raised concerns that players may not be fully engaged, but Timbers’s run in the final was marked by an ardent desire to win.
Things got tense in the 32nd minute of Tuesday’s final, when Blanco took Orlando coach Oscar Pareja on stage and confronted him while making a hand gesture, which seems to accuse Pareja of running with his mouth. The referee, Ismail Elfath, cursed Blanco and observed while Blanco and Pareja apparently resolved their quarrels.
Entering the finals, Savarese decided to stick to what he did, making no change from the starting lineup that defeated the Philadelphia Union in the semifinals.
Orlando has also been extremely resilient. The Lion’s starting lineup in the final was the same as the previous three games and, of their 11 starters, nine of them started all seven of the tournament.
The de facto hosts of the tournament, Orlando City have never qualified for the MLS Cup play-offs since entering the league in 2015. But Pareja, a first-year coach for the Lions, has turned up a list that is not significantly different. from what finished in second place last year.
The focus now returns to the regular MLS season, which resumes on Wednesday when FC Dallas hosts Nashville SC – with a limited number of fans on the stands.
MLS commissioner Don Garber said fans would be allowed to play games in some markets where local authorities allow it, despite health experts mainly warning that it is not safe for crowds to gather while the coronavirus is out of control. The Timbers have not sought permission to host fans in their first home games.
“I’m sure we have a good plan,” Garber Taylor Twellman told ESPN when asked on Tuesday about the decision to host fans this season, without specifically mentioning the protocols in place for fans. “We just have to start, Taylor. We have to go back and see if it works. If that happens, we will continue and if it does not, we will have to turn to it.”
The Timbers regular season started in March with a win and a loss before the season was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The MLS group stage is last night’s tournament, which the Timbers ended with two wins and a draw, counting towards the regular season.
The Timbers’ first game outside the MLS is the return bubble will be Aug. 23 against the Seattle Sounders in an empty Providence Park.
They will then play a match every three days until September 6th. The regular MLS season schedule has not been set beyond that, but Garber said he expects the play-off and MLS Cup to be played before the end of the year.
– Caitlin Murray for Oregonian / OregonLive
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