The race for the MLS Cup is underway.
The first leg of the MLS Conference Finals began Sunday with the Eastern Conference Finals, as the Columbus Crew hosted the New York Red Bulls followed by the Portland Timbers playing host to top seed FC Dallas in the Western Conference Finals.
Columbus is the only team in this field of four that knows what it's like to win a championship. As irony would have it, the Crew beat the Red Bulls back in 2008 to win their first MLS Cup. The Red Bulls haven't made it to the Finals since.
On the West side, FC Dallas hasn't been to the MLS Cup since 2010, when it fell to the Colorado Rapids in extra time thanks to an own goal. The four-year-old Timbers franchise is looking for its first-ever trip to the MLS Cup Finals.
Here's a rundown of Sunday's first-leg action.
Eastern Conference Finals
Columbus 2, New York 0
It didn't take long for the Crew to put their stamp on the Eastern Conference Finals. In fact, it took all but nine seconds.
Justin Meram scored the fastest goal in MLS playoffs history, nine seconds in, to put Columbus up 1-0. From there on, the Crew dictated the pace and played stellar defense to keep the Red Bulls in check.
ESPN FC provided the clip of Meram's goal:
As the series shifts to New York for the second leg, the Crew will go in with all the momentum. Kei Kamara added a bit of insurance with a goal in the 85th minute to put Columbus up 2-0. Not only are the Crew up two goals on aggregate, but the Red Bulls did not score a goal on the road, which means New York will need to pull off a miraculous comeback to advance to the Finals.
But as the FC Dallas/Seattle Sounders series told us, anything is possible. New York, with a game at home, is not out of this yet.
The second leg is set for 7:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 22 in New York on Fox Sports 1.
Western Conference Finals
Portland 3, FC Dallas 1
Both home teams took care of their respective business on Sunday. Portland got three goals, including a crucial late goal in the 90th minute from Nat Borchers to give the Timbers a much-needed 3-1 win over FC Dallas in Portland.
Liam Ridgewell got things started in the 23rd minute with a score off a corner kick. Daron Asprilla would add some insurance in the 53rd minute to take a 2-0 lead.
Fox Soccer provided a replay of Ridgewell's goal:
But FC Dallas, being the resilient bunch they are, came back 10 minutes later as David Texiera lofted a touch shot into the back of the net for a crucial away goal. Going into next Sunday's second leg, that may turn out to be very crucial. Even though Portland scored one more time later in the match, should FC Dallas win 2-0, they'll advance on a 3-3 aggregate with more road goals than Portland.
MLS has a clip of Texiera's clutch goal:
It was a rough day for the top seeds on the road, but that's why two legs are needed in the playoffs.
The second leg is set for 5 p.m. ET on Nov. 29 on ESPN.