By TIM BOOTH
The Associated Press
SEATTLE — Dairon Asprilla scored the deciding penalty as the Portland Timbers survived a wild second half and extra time to defeat the Seattle Sounders 4-2 in a shootout Thursday night and advance to the MLS Western Conference finals.
Seattle won the wild second leg of the conference semifinal matchup between the Cascadia rivals 3-2, scoring late in regulation to force extra time before both teams scored early in the extra session. Eventually, the sides decided the winner via penalties, although Portland initially believed it had won at the end of extra time because of scoring a second road goal in the match.
The celebration was premature as road goals are not a tiebreaker in extra time. But it became real minutes later when Asprilla beat Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei and sent Portland to the West finals for the first time since winning the MLS Cup in 2015.
Portland will face Sporting Kansas City or Real Salt Lake in the West finals.
Asprilla, Lucas Melano, Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco scored in the shootout for Portland. Seattle’s goals came from Raul Ruidiaz and Handwalla Bwana, but Will Bruin hit the post and Osvaldo Alonso’s shot was saved by Portland goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, atoning for an earlier mistake that led to Seattle’s first goal.
Portland held a 2-1 lead after the first leg at home and the match reached penalties only because of a wild final 25 minutes of regulation and a beginning to extra time that was equally crazy.
Seattle took a 1-0 lead in the match and pulled even at 2-2 on aggregate — with the road goal tiebreaker — when Ruidiaz scored in the 68th minute after Attinella mishandled a cross into the penalty area. Less than 10 minutes later, Blanco scored to put the visitors ahead 3-2 on aggregate and even in the match at 1-all.
It appeared that would be enough for the Timbers to advance, but Ruidiaz had another special moment waiting. With Seattle frantically scrambling for one more goal that would take the match to extra time, Ruidiaz scored in the third minute of stoppage time. The goal was stunning because it was Blanco that ended up creating the chance. Rather than sending a header out of the penalty area, Blanco’s header went to the middle of the box where Ruidiaz hit the volley flush and set off another wild celebration.
Once the match reached extra time, road goals were no longer a tiebreaker and the rule proved to make a difference. Portland went ahead 4-3 on aggregate when Asprilla scored in the 93rd minute on a perfect cross from Diego Valeri. That lead lasted all of four minutes after Blanco made his second major mistake late in the match, getting called for a clear handball in the penalty area. Nicolas Lodeiro confidently beat Attinella on the penalty kick and the sides were even at 4.
Seattle had a goal by Ruidiaz disallowed in the 113th minute for a clear handball that bounced past Attinella and into the net.
Seattle played without standout midfielder Cristian Roldan and center back Chad Marshall. Roldan strained a hip flexor in the first leg and was considered a game-time decision but was not included among Seattle’s starters or subs. Marshall tore the meniscus in his right knee and underwent surgery earlier this week.