10 things we learned from the second legs of MLS’s conference finals

Both Afful and Sauro were midseason signings, and all the credit in the world has to go to Berhalter for recognizing and fixing his team’s obvious flaws when he needed to. The payoff has already been huge.

7. A Masterpiece From Diego Valeri

Diego Valeri tore his ACL in Frisco on the last day of the 2014 regular season, and if his postgame comments were any indication, that injury was never far from his mind on Sunday.

It’s been a long, hard road back for Valeri this season. He’s only scored two goals, and been overshadowed for the first time in his Timbers career by the likes of Darlington Nagbe, Borchers, and even Adi, but the Argentine playmaker has quietly returned to his best form in these playoffs.

Valeri assisted both Timbers goals on Sunday – giving him four assists in the four playoff games he’s played in – and that fact didn’t really do his performance justice. For a player without exceptional foot-speed, ball control, or dribbling skill, Valeri’s ability to tie defenses in knots is incredible to watch. His feel for the game is extraordinary, and as his team tensed up late, Valeri only grew in stature. He could have had three assists in the last 10 minutes.

With Liam Ridgewell, Will Johnson, and Jack Jewsbury all out of the starting lineup, Valeri was captain for the day and got to lift the Western Conference Championship trophy – and it was a joy to watch the cathartic celebration of one of the most charming, likable players in the league.

8. Thin Margins

Columbus gets to host the Cup. Why? Goal difference. They had the same record as the Timbers, and the Timbers actually won in Columbus in September. Home-field advantage is a big thing, and while I love MLS being played at the home stadium of the team with the better record, the way it shook out this year seems awfully tough on Portland.

There probably isn’t a better way to decide which club hosts, but, once again, this situation shows how thin the margins can be.

9. The Timbers Deserved More Individual Plaudits

Dallas had Matt Hedges and Fabian Castillo in MLS’s Best XI, but neither player was one of the five best on the field at any point of the Western Conference Championship. Castillo had zero impact, while Hedges, never the main culprit, nonetheless led a defense that gave up five goals in two games. The Crew, Portland’s opponents in the final, had both Kei Kamara and Ethan Finley in the Best XI. The Red Bulls, the team they beat, had both Dax McCarty and Luis Robles in the team.

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