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Minnesota United came into Portland with their sights set on continuing the run of success they’ve had against the Timbers over the last two-plus years. Without starting goalkeeper Tyler Miller due to COVID protocols, Head Coach Adrian Heath went with Dayne St. Clair and at first, things looked reasonably even between the two sides. The Loons got on the board early, though, off some terrific interplay in the box and a finish from Franco Fragapane. Just before the half, however, Portland pulled themselves level on a header from Larrys Mabiala. In the second, Sebastian Blanco got hot and began to pick the visitors apart, registering a brace en route to a 3-1 win that would end Minnesota’s playoff aspirations.

As was expected given the two sides’ experience and the high stakes, the game began with both teams a bit cagey, clearly looking to feel the game out and avoid letting the field tilt in one direction too precipitously. The midfield was highly contested, with Minnesota jumping on the ball whenever they lost it there and also doing their best to keep the Timbers contained in the middle third. This forced Portland to look for longer direct balls, with defender Romain Metanire being called into service early and often to shut down runs on the left wing — as task he was more than up for.

Before long, Minnesota opened the scoring. In the 11th minute, midfielder Emanuel Reynoso sent a well-weighted ball out wide to winger Robin Lod, who cut inside and moved it to his left foot, looking for a shot. But he instead found and overlapping Metanire down the endline. The fullback’s curled just out of goalkeeper Steve Clark’s reach and onto the waiting feet of winger Franco Fragapane, who only had to slide it in to put the Loons on top 1-0 early.

Fired up by the goal and playing with a bit more urgency, the Timbers turned it up a notch in the attack and managed to get the Loons back on their heels a bit with a string of free kicks and corner kicks from the 15th minute onward. All told, the home side had five corners in the first half to the visitors’ one. 

Both teams began ringing up opportunities as the game approached the half-hour mark. In the 24th minute, Reynoso received a pass near the top of the box and turned quickly, baiting defender Larrys Mabiala into a hard foul that earned the Loons a free kick in a dangerous position. Reynoso struck a beauty of a curler that couldn’t quite beat Clark to the left.

A miscommunication between midfielders Osvaldo Alonso and Wil Trapp led to a turnover that led to a free kick in the 35th minute. While midfielder Sebastian Blanco’s ensuing strike went well over the crossbar, the momentum had begun shifting towards Portland. For a while, the Loons’ defense held fast, with defender Bakaye Dibassy deftly heading away a bicycle kick from Mabiala off a short corner in the 42nd minute. But in the 43rd, Mabiala rose up on another corner kick and headed the ball past Dayne St. Clair and into the upper right corner of the goal to level it 1-1 as the game headed into halftime.

The second half had barely begun when Portland leapt out into the lead. Claudio Bravo sent in an early diagonal cross from the left wing that the defense couldn’t get a solid clearance on. As it bounced out towards the edge of the box, Blanco laid into it and drove the ball hard onto the far post and in to make it 2-1.

In the 54th minute, Metanire’s day came to end as he went down grabbing his hamstring. Hassani Dotson came on at right back and Minnesota started working to claw their way back into the game. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the kind of position the Timbers want the visitors to be in. Forced into pushing further forward, Minnesota had to concede some security at the back and in the 61st minute, winger Yimmi Chara missed a golden opportunity to put the home side up two goals after the Timbers sprinted out on the counterattack off a corner kick at the other end. A cross from the right side came right to the onrushing Chara, but his sliding strike nudged it just wide.

The Timbers would not have to wait long to get another opportunity, though. In the 66th minute, Blanco got his brace on a stunner from distance. Lining it from well beyond the box, the Argentine smashed it into the upper right corner of the goal to make it 3-1 for the home side.

Minnesota tried to shake things up by bringing in Joseph Rosales for midfielder Wil Trapp and Niko Hansen for Adrien Hunou in the 72nd minute, they couldn’t find a way to get back into the game. Tempers boiled over in the 85th minute after a nasty collision between Franco Fragapane and Diego Chara. A flurry of shoving and yellow cards ensued. The Loons kept fighting to the very end, with Hansen delivering a pinpoint cross onto the head of Lod in stoppage time for a shot that just missed, but ultimately it was not to be as Portland locked up the victory and will now head to Colorado to face the Rapids in the Western Conference Semifinals.