Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers
The Portland Timbers were scoreless in more than 320 straight minutes of play against Sporting Kansas City this season and trailing them 1-0 in the second half of the second leg of the Western Conference Championship on Thursday night, in need of a goal to save their season, when the impossible happened.

Sebastian Blanco picked a harmless pass on the left wing, some 25 yards from goal, stepped inside, eluded a limp challenge, and then, in stride, lowered his shoulder and blasted a howitzer of a shot that dipped and swerved in midair and burst over Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia's outstretched arm in the back of the net.

It was a stupefying goal — a clean break from all that had come before it — and it hit the game like an earthquake.

The shutout streak was over. Sporting's grip on the match, the series, and the fate of the Western Conference tied to it was gone as well.

Nine minutes later, the Timbers took the lead outright on a rebound goal from Diego Valeri. And when Valeri scored again on a two-man counter with Diego Chara to make it 3-2 in the 99th minute of another absolutely bonkers, edge-of-your-seat postseason instant classic, it was over.

Somehow, someway, they'd gotten themselves through Dallas, through Seattle, and, with that, through Kansas City.

These Timbers, who didn't have a win after the first month-and-a-half of the season, who finished in fifth place, with a first-year manager, shuffling center backs and center forwards, are the Western Conference champions headed for MLS Cup.

It's unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. You so easily could have left the Timbers for dead at so many points along this journey, at so many points just on this playoff run, that their still standing this morning, flying another piece of silverware back to PDX, feels almost disorienting.

And yet — are you surprised? Shocked by any of it? With Valeri, Blanco, and Chara leading the way? Those are generational players, and they, along with their teammates, have grabbed every half chance presented to them over the last two months without a backwards glance.

Want to know what that looks like? On a night when they were played off the field in the first half, and continued to absorb wave after wave of Kansas City's attack in the second, the Timbers had just three shots on goal. They all — even that prayer from Blanco — went in.

So, just three short years after their first MLS Cup championship in Columbus, Portland is back in American club soccer's biggest game. For Giovani Savarese, it will be an astounding fifth league final in six seasons as a professional coach.

At the start of this game, though, it looked for all the world as if Savarese and his team weren't going to get there.

Much as the Timbers started the first leg by swarming Kansas City, the Sporting opened leg two camped in the Timbers' half. Daniel Salloi and Felipe Gutierrez, two underwhelming performers last Sunday, were both bright — with Salloi giving Zarek Valentin all kinds of problems on Portland's right side.

Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers
The play that led to the first goal after 20 minutes, though, would start on the other side of the field where Johnny Russell had gotten himself isolated against Liam Ridgewell.

Ridgewell did well to knock the ball away, but Rubio to reacted quickest to it and whipped a first-time cross through the goalmouth which Valentin missed, and Salloi slapped through the retreating fullback's legs and in to give Sporting the advantage.

Had Kansas City scored again in the first half — and they had plenty of opportunities to, along with a goal chalked off for interference against Ike Opara and another erased for an offside on Rubio — the Timbers might have been buried before Blanco's thunderbolt could so dramatically change the tide.

But change the tide it did. Much as the Argentinian's long-range strike in Seattle in the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinal had resurrected the Timbers in that series, this strike both gave the Timbers life and knocked all of the assuredness out of Kansas City.

Then, after just nine minutes had passed, it was Blanco again — chipping a pass over the top for Jeremy Ebobisse, who took it down while colliding with an onrushing Tim Melia. The ball deflected on a hop to Melia's left, and Valeri, streaking towards it, was able to nod into an empty net.

Now the game was truly upside down. Kansas City needed to score twice to advance, giving the Timbers their first two-goal cushion of the entire postseason.

Turns out, they'd need it. After setting his team up with a smart plan of attack at the start, Kansas City boss Peter Vermes made a game-changing substitution: pulling a flagging Salloi and inserting the speedy Guinea Bissau winger Gerso Fernandes.

If Valentin had struggled with the former player, he couldn't at all handle the latter player. He was lucky to stay on the field after one late challenge, and was one of several players bailed out by a combination of Jeff Attinella's goalkeeping and poor finishing as several excellent Sporting chances went begging.

But with just less than ten minutes to go, Kansas City did pull the game back to 2-2. A cross from Graham Zusi squirmed through the box to Gerso, who took a touch to settle the ball, and finished strongly past Attinella.

It set up a grandstand finish. But at the end of ten minutes of stoppage time, the Timbers would get the last goal — the three men amongst men, Blanco, Chara, and Valeri, combining on a coast-to-coast counter to seal the West.

Chara, who had a monstrous 21 defensive actions, and Valeri, who now has 13 combined goals and assists in 15 playoff games, are two of the greatest players in MLS history. Blanco doesn't have their longevity, nor their 2015 winners' medal, but his contributions to this season pale in comparison to nothing and no one.

There's also something to be said for Ridgewell, who, in a game with Opara and Matt Besler, might just have been the best center back on the field. He's had, predictably, a terrific couple months. All of these Timbers have.

Their reward? One more road game — which they'll play in nine days, in front of more than 70,000 people, as a bigger underdog than ever before.

They wouldn't have it any other way.

Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers