In a road playoff game, the Portland Timbers somehow found a way.
With an injured Sebastian Blanco watching from the sideline as a scoreless second half wound down, a 90th-minute goal from Larrys Mabiala beat the top-seeded Colorado Rapids 1-0 and sent the Timbers back to the Western Conference final for the first time since 2018.
In the first-ever MLS game on Thanksgiving, the Timbers were on the back foot as the Rapids pushed the action for the first half at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce, Colorado.
But despite a left leg injury that forced Blanco out of the game in the 50th minute, Portland grew into the game and nearly earned the win multiple times before Mabiala finally finished off a bouncing ball on a scrum following a corner kick.
After scoring zero goals in the regular season, the French-born Congolese center back has scored twice in two playoff games over the past five days.
The Timbers will now face the winner of Sunday’s game between Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City. If favored Kansas City wins, Portland will travel again for the conference final. If Salt Lake wins, the Timbers would host the game at Providence Park. In 2018, Portland won three consecutive road games to advance to the MLS Cup final.
The Timbers suffered two major setbacks in the game despite the win. Blanco, who scored twice in Sunday’s 3-1 win over Minnesota, crumpled to the ground in pain in early in the second half after attempting a shot with the heavily taped left leg. He immediately signaled for a substitute and left the field in tears as he was replaced by Santiago Moreno.
Later, in second-half stoppage time, Dairon Asprilla was shown a red card for a sideline confrontation with a Colorado player. Asprilla, who scored a career-high 10 goals this season, will now be suspended for the conference final.
The Timbers picked up the pace offensively in the second half and nearly took the lead in the 65th minute. Jaroslaw Niezgoda played a pass from in front of goal to Josecarlos Van Rankin on the right wing. Van Rankin then sent a first-time shot that beat Colorado keeper William Yarbrough but was cleared off the goal line by lunging Rapids defender Danny Wilson.
In the 84th minute, Felipe Mora lofted a pass toward a streaking Yimmi Chara that turned into another close call, as the ball fell just inches from Chara’s outstretched leg.
The home side controlled play in the first half, forcing Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clark to make three saves. The last of the trio was the best, as Colorado’s Dominique Badji powered a header toward goal from close range that Clark was able to fend off.
The Timbers, on the other hand, did little offensively in the first 45 minutes, with a 25-yard shot by Blanco that looped over the crossbar serving as the only serious threat.