VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Inches away from getting eliminated in the knockout round of the MLS Cup playoffs, the Portland Timbers are bound for the Western Conference finals for the second time in franchise history.
Perhaps Portland coach Caleb Porter is right and these Timbers are headed for something special.
"Some years you just seem to peak at the right time, you build an aura and this team is building an aura," Porter said.
Fanendo Adi scored off a feed from Diego Valeri in the 31st minute and Diego Chara added the capper in second-half stoppage time, sending the Timbers to the West finals with a 2-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday night.
Portland, the No. 3 seed in the West, played to a 0-0 draw in the first-leg of the two-game series at home against Vancouver and got the critical road goal after withstanding an early rush from the Whitecaps. Valeri got free from his defender on the end line and found Adi open in the middle of the penalty area. Vancouver goalkeeper David Ousted had no chance to save the left-footed shot that silenced the 27,837 at BC Place to see the Whitecaps first home playoff match as an MLS club.
Portland will face FC Dallas in the Western Conference finals, with the first leg Nov. 22 in Portland.
Portland was knocked out by Real Salt Lake in the West finals in 2013.
"We're very confident. You can't be more confident than we are at the moment," Adi said.
Portland is unbeaten in six straight matches dating back to the end of the regular season, including the wild penalty kick victory over Sporting Kansas City in the knockout stage that went 11 rounds and ended with goalkeepers shooting on each other.
Instead of being exhausted from the escape against Kansas City, the Timbers played smartly against Vancouver in the first leg, not conceding a road goal. Then they pounced on the Whitecaps mistakes on Sunday.
"The last six games we've been in playoff mode. We've been under pressure and for this group to play the way they're playing under massive pressure, it's a really good sign," Porter said.
Portland beat Vancouver for the first time since Sept. 20, 2014. The Whitecaps had one win and the Cascadia rivals played to three draws in their four previous matchups this season. Portland was tied for the most victories away from home during the regular season and for long stretches of the match controlled possession, leaving Vancouver to play chase just to get an occasional touch on the ball.
Chara's goal came on a counter-attack as Vancouver threw all its resources forward in the closing minutes. Adi picked up the assist, leaving the pass for Chara on the breakaway.
Adi led Portland with 16 goals during the regular season. His first of the playoffs stymied Vancouver after it came out buzzing for the first 20 minutes only to see its chance take a major blow when midfielder Kekuta Manneh had to leave with an ankle injury.
Vancouver had the better early chances, included two from Manneh within the first 10 minutes. Manneh's left-footed shot from a sharp angle in the sixth minute skirted wide of the far post, and his attempt from distance in the ninth minute hit the post and ricocheted off the back of Portland goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey but bounced wide of the goal.
But Vancouver's entire offensive attack changed when Manneh hurt his ankle in the 20th minute. Manneh tried to return but lasted less than a minute before being subbed out for Mauro Rosales.
Manneh came back to the bench for the second half with his left ankle heavily wrapped with ice and helped by two teammates.