Sebastian Blanco overcame an injury scare late in the first half to score twice in the second, and the Portland Timbers overcame an early deficit to defeat visiting Minnesota United 3-1 in Sunday’s MLS Cup Playoffs first-round match.
Larrys Mabiala headed in Claudio Bravo’s cross shortly before halftime to pull No. 4 seed Portland level.
Bravo was also involved in the buildup to Blanco’s opener, which ultimately proved the decisive goal in a result that sends No. 4 seed Portland to top-seeded Colorado for a conference semifinal on Thanksgiving Day.
Franco Fragapane gave No. 5 seed Minnesota United the early lead in the 11th minute, popping up at the back post to tap in Romaine Metanire’s cross after a slick attacking move.
But the visitors lost a second consecutive playoff match after taking a lead on the road, after giving back a two-goal advantage in Seattle in the 2020 West final.
Portland assumed an attacking posture almost instantly after falling behind, and was rewarded with a tying goal in the 43rd minute.
After Minnesota cleared an initial corner, Mabiala rose above Metanire to meet Bravo’s cross just outside the 6-yard-box and send a looping header between ‘keeper Dayne St. Clair and the right post.
Not long after, Blanco found himself on the ground after an awkward fall holding his lower back, with his ability to return to the match in question.
But the halftime whistle gave the Argentine — who earned MVP honors at the 2020 MLS is Back Tournament — time to recover.
He put it to good use roughly 65 seconds into the second half.
Bravo sent in a speculative cross toward striker Felipe Mora, and Minnesota’s defense made only a half clearance. Blanco reached it and sent a first-touch, right-footed finish into the lower left corner beyond St. Clair’s dive.
His second goal 20 minutes later was even more impressive. He took Jose Van Rankin’s pass following a Minnesota turnover and from distance drove a ferocious strike with the outside of his boot off the inside of the right post from distance, giving St. Clair no chance.
–Field Level Media
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