IM1.jpg
Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers
Dairon Asprilla wasn't going to miss.

He just wasn't. So after more than three hours, more than 1,200 passes, more than 30 shots, five goals, one premature celebration, and eight penalty kicks, it was all over but the paperwork.

Because if there is one thing about Asprilla, one thing that everyone who has played with and watched him during his four up-and-down years in Portland knows, it's this: he doesn't miss penalties. He smokes them. Hits them harder than just about anyone you've ever seen.

That's why the Timbers lined him up to take their fifth kick. And sure enough, after striding slowly to the spot, an MLS instant classic on his right foot, he hit his penalty hard. Hard enough that, even though it was poorly placed, even though Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei got a hand to it, it flew in anyway.

With the conversion, the Timbers ousted the Seattle Sounders from the MLS Cup Playoffs — finishing 3-2 losers on the night, 4-4 survivors on aggregate, and 4-2 winners in the shootout that finally ended it.

Thought you'd never see anything comparable to the Double Post game? You weren't alone. You also, as luck would have it, weren't right.

There's no telling yet if what transpired at CenturyLink Field on Thursday night will propel the Timbers to a championship like that nearly indescribable Wild Card win three years ago did. There's a long road yet from here to December 8, with what promises to be a difficult Western Conference Final series next up.

But here's what we know for sure: we just witnessed the greatest game in the history of American soccer's premier rivalry, one that swung back and forth and back again with so much intensity and so much erraticism that it will days and weeks to completely unpack.

These two great clubs locked horns and wouldn't let go. Neither was perfect, but neither gave an inch. The Timbers, playing their third game in nine days, pinned back for long stretches, refused to yield. The Sounders, on the brink of elimination, missing two of their most vital players, wouldn't fade away either.

They just rammed into and scrambled around each other for more than 120 minutes on that vast expanse of CenturyLink turf, each side never letting the other out of sight until they stopped and stood side-by-side on the midfield stripe, watching the shootout, and waiting for its verdict.

At the start of the evening, the Sounders knew that a 1-0 win, courtesy of the strength of their away goal scored last Sunday in Portland, would be enough to secure their safe passage.

The result was a cagey first half, Seattle pushing forward but reservedly so, the Timbers sitting back but not too deep, both teams holding steady. But as the second half began with no score, the Sounders began to increase the urgency of their forays forward — and, soon enough, the game exploded into life.

With just more than 20 minutes to play. Seattle winger Victor Rodriguez swung in a long cross into the penalty area. Jeff Attinella came out to claim it and did, but then dropped the ball — allowing Raul Ruidiaz to steal in, and, after two bounces, slam it into the vacated goal.

IM2.jpg
Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers
For such a sure-handed player as Attinella, it was a devastating mistake. He collapsed to the ground after he saw the ball hit the net, head in his hands, momentarily beyond the consolation first offered by Alvas Powell.

But it didn't take long for a bailout to arrive. Asprilla entered the game for Andy Polo, and, ten minutes later, brought down a cleared cross and stabbed it to Sebastian Blanco — who took a touch to set himself, and then, like the dead-eye assassin he is, ripped a low shot out of Frei's reach into the corner.

That put the Timbers up 3-2 on aggregate. Seattle sent on Will Bruin and threw he and Roman Torres up top in search of an equalizer as time ticked away, but it was Lucas Melano, another substitute, who could have sealed the result in stoppage time, going through on goal only to see his shot palmed away by Frei.

One minute later, predictably, Seattle rescued themselves. Another long, searching cross was headed up by Liam Ridgewell and then back into the middle of the box by Blanco, where Ruidiaz, again perfectly positioned, laced a volley on the fly past Attinella and to force extra time.

Less than three minutes in, the teams began to exchange blows once again.

Diego Valeri stood a majestic cross up at the back post and Asprilla, crashing in unmarked, sent his header flying into the far side netting. But the Timbers' regained lead would be erased this time after just four minutes, the magisterial Nicolas Lodeiro converting a penalty won via a Blanco handball.

When the final whistle blew at the end of extra time, the teams still knotted after Rudiaz had a potential winner correctly ruled out for a handball, several of the Timbers players thought that they had won the series on away goals — not realizing that away goals do not count towards the tiebreaker in extra time.

When they found out that they were wrong, they didn't despair. They just picked themselves up and kept moving. That's what Attinella did too, making his first penalty save as a Timber on Osvaldo Alonso, at CenturyLink Field, to help decide a playoff shootout against Seattle.

You can't say enough about him. You can't say enough this entire team — flawed, even still, even as it has come into its own over the last month, but so large in character and so strong in its characters that you would never bet against them doing anything.

And still it fell to Asprilla, left for dead again and again during his Timbers career and made a punchline over the last several months, to save them all — not only batting cleanup in the shootout, but becoming the first player in MLS this decade to register a goal and an assist as a substitute in a playoff game.

He's never going to be a great player. But few have worked so hard, picked themselves up so many times, and come up so big when it has mattered so much. That's sports. Every once in a while, it leaves you with a smile that could last forever.

The Sounders are done. The Timbers are breathing. The Western Conference Final starts in just a tick more than two weeks' time.

IM3.jpg
Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers