There will be no MLS Cup rematch in Atlanta at the end of the month. Instead, Minnesota United, 2-1 victors over the Timbers on Wednesday night in Saint Paul, will face their fellow expansion side in their first ever final as an MLS club.
For the Loons, who suffered through their first two seasons in the top flight in a college football stadium, conceding more than 140 goals and finishing near the bottom of the Western Conference, it's a remarkable achievement.
For the Timbers, on the other hand, it's a setback. Portland had only lost one game with its first choice lineup since Brian Fernandez made his debut in March before arriving in the Twin Cities last weekend, in the five days since, they've lost twice.
The first of those losses, in the league game between these clubs on Sunday, came via the narrowest of margins: a controversial, video-reviewed late penalty against Larrys Mabiala that Ethan Finely converted to hand Minnesota a 1-0.
This, though, this U.S. Open Cup semifinal, was a chance to put that defeat firmly in the rearview mirror. The Timbers had never reached the final of American soccer's oldest and most storied competition, and, considering the resources they devoted to it and the team they have, this should have been the year.
It wasn't. And while the margin was again slim, and Minnesota's victory was again aided by a favorable penalty decision, the Timbers cannot complain all that vociferously. They weren't at their best on Wednesday night, and they paid the price.
Several lineup decisions from Giovani Savarese shaped the nature of the Timbers' evening. First, the positive: Jeremy Ebobisse, held to a substitute's role on Sunday, started and excelled.
Elsewhere, there was less to herald. Cristhian Paredes struggled on short rest, Dairon Asprilla couldn't conjure another big game moment, and, most notably, the team's single weakest link all season, Claude Dielna, had his most damaging performance in a Timbers shirt yet.
They gave the game plenty. But against a fully committed Minnesota team, playing with a sense of the occasion, it wasn't good enough.
Dielna's nightmarish outing began early on. After the two teams traded chances in a back-and-forth opening quarter hour, Vito Mannone punching away a Sebastian Blanco curler on one end and Michael Boxall planting a free header wide on the other, the Loons won a free kick in range for Darwin Quintero.
The Colombian blasted the ball at the Timbers' wall, where it ricocheted off of Dielna's raised and outstretched left elbow.
Referee Ismail Elfath pointed to the spot without delay. Quintero stepped up, and — after a word of advice from former Sounders captain Ozzie Alonso — sent Steve Clark the wrong way to give the home side an early advantage.
That is, until the very end of the first half, two minutes into stoppage time. The move began when Jorge Moreira stepped around Quintero into space and fired a cross into the box that Ebobisse, with a single touch, redirected in between Minnesota defenders for Brian Fernandez, who was suddenly through on goal.
From there, it was simple. Fernandez tucked the ball away, and the Timbers, a minute later, thanks to the pass of Ebobisse's career to date, walked into the locker room back on level terms and in firmly in the ascendency.
The Timbers, as expected, started the second half in fine fettle as well — Blanco and Asprilla further testing Mannone from long range, with the team's forward press making it difficult for the Loons to retain possession after turnovers. The pressure was on.
Then, out of nothing, Minnesota retook the lead. A simple long ball over the top from Kevin Molino caught Dielna isolated against Mason Toye, and, in the resulting footrace, the French center back didn't have a chance. With Steve Clark stranded, Toye collected the ball and slotted it into the side netting to make it 2-1.
It could not have been a more simple goal, and it put clear a charge into the Loons while deflating the Timbers. Savarese responded by bringing on Andres Flores and then Diego Valeri, but Minnesota, with renewed confidence and a stalwart central midfield of Alonso and Jan Gregus, had taken the upper hand.
Their manager Adrian Heath shifted his side into a 4-3-3 for the final stretch, with Hassani Dotson and Ethan Finely making strong entries off the bench, and as the match progressed into its final ten minutes, the Timbers were chasing the game and conceding set pieces.
It didn't appear that Portland had the energy to mount a final push of any significance. In stoppage time, though, they'd come awfully close to sending the game to extra time.
In the 94th minute, A whipped cross from Blanco dipped just in front of Mannone, who parried it back into the box — where it hit an onrushing Valeri and hit the post. Savarese clutched his hands to his head in disbelief. It was, for all intents and purposes, the last attack of the game.
After the final whistle sounded, Wonderwall rang out around the stadium, Heath and his team celebrated in front of their supporters, and the Timbers were left picking up the pieces from a long, lost trip.
There is no question that the Timbers were a credit to themselves throughout the U.S. Open Cup this year. But it's a difficult competition to win, especially with a draw as unfavorable as the one they got, and they ultimately came up a player and a bounce or two short.
The Timbers will be in the hunt for silverware the rest of the way. Again in the Cup, however, it's wait till next year.