The Portland Timbers have secured a berth in the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League thanks to a 2-1 victory over Orlando City SC in the Final of the MLS Is Back Tournament in Orlando, Florida.
It marks the third time that Portland have qualified for the SCCL, their previous two appearances coming in the 2014-15 and 2016-17 editions.
“It was not easy, but the guys were able to make sure that we executed the plan and were able to get a great victory,” said Portland Head Coach Giovanni Savarese following Tuesday night’s Final.
“Now, we are able to lift the trophy, and the most important part is being able to qualify to the Concacaf Champions League,” added Savarese.
One of the stars of the Timbers throughout the tournament has been MF Sebastian Blanco, who completed the seven matches with three goals and five assists.
Having participated in the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, Conmebol Copa Libertadores and Conmebol Copa Sudamericana, Blanco will now have the opportunity to join an elite class of players who have appeared in five different international club tournaments when Portland take the field next season in the SCCL.
“Many people think it’s easy, but it’s not. It fills me with pride to be part of teams in which the objectives are always big. Playing in international tournaments always is prestigious. [The SCCL] was the tournament that I lacked, it was the tournament I always thought about since I arrived here, so I am very happy about this. But this has just started. We will approach it in the best way and we have a year to go,” said Blanco in the post-match press conference.
It was a cagey start between the two sides, with Orlando City dominating possession and Portland staying compact in defense.
The deadlock was broken in the 27’ off a set piece when Portland MF Diego Valeri’s free kick found charging DF Larrys Mabiala, who headed into net for a 1-0 Timbers lead.
Orlando City would answer in the 39’ though, as an inch-perfect cross from MF Nani from the left wing found MF Mauricio Pereyra, who took a touch and slotted in a shot to make it 1-1.
Things stood on a knife’s edge throughout the second half, with Orlando City GK Pedro Gallese making a pair of sensational saves. The latter save resulted in a corner kick, which turned into the decisive moment for the Timbers.
The corner kick was curled into the area and a shot took a deflection of FW Jeremy Ebobisse and ricocheted to DF Darrio Zuparic, who then redirected the ball into net for a 2-1 Portland advantage.
From there the Timbers defense took over and nailed down the victory, the title and a coveted spot in the 2021 SCCL.
“I have said that this tournament had something special, which was the qualification for next year’s Concacaf Champions League. For us, to return to an international tournament gives us prestige, it gives us that desire for what is coming. We want to go for everything. We achieved this, but we are not about to settle. We are going for more,” concluded Blanco.