After dominating the first leg, Real Salt Lake clinched the Western Conference championship and a ticket to the MLS Cup with a 1-0 win over the Portland Timbers on Sunday. They won the playoff 5-2 on aggregate.
ESPN FC summed up the victory for Salt Lake:
Motivated by a raucous crowd as usual, you could tell that the Timbers came into the match needing to make up two goals in the 90-minute span, as they pushed the envelope early and often.
Although they controlled the tempo early on, as well as possession, it wasn't Portland who struck first, despite the desperate attempts.
In the 29th minute of the match, Robbie Findley of Salt Lake slipped free inside the box right in front of Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, and the left-footed strike was the match's only goal.
Portland came awfully close to equalizing just three minutes later, but the would-be goal was nullified on an offside call. MLS provided a link to the controversial play:
Even though plenty of time remained to mount a comeback, Salt Lake was able to take control of the pace of the match late in the first half and early into the second. Instead of giving into Portland's aggressive style of play, Salt Lake remained poised, calm and in control, despite the emotions in the game.
Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl noticed Salt Lake's performance as they head to the MLS Cup:
No other way to say it: Salt Lake has been tremendous in this semifinal. Well-prepared, solid execution, emotions in check, Morales a star.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) November 25, 2013
Although the overall result seemed to be in hand just after halftime, tensions still flared between the two clubs.
In the 52nd minute, a host of Salt Lake attackers flooded the Portland penalty box and collided with Ricketts. Multiple players from both sides converged and nearly came to blows before being separated.
Fortunately for the two sides, neither team received a card for the incident, and it spelled the end to any chippy play in the match. Portland fans were able to ring in the end of their best season in franchise history with a handful of ovations and chants despite seeing their season come to a close.
Waiting for Salt Lake in a match for the MLS Cup is Sporting Kansas City, and the two sides will come together on Dec. 7 for the league championship.
MLS started building the anticipation just seconds after Sunday's result.
Of course, this season marked just the third overall in Portland's brief history and their first playoff appearance. It came one-stop short of the MLS Cup, which can be commended both inside and outside of Portland.
Meanwhile, Salt Lake continues its impressive season. After already avenging three straight years of conference semifinal lapses, the team can look to repeat what it did in 2009—win a MLS Cup.