The shot deflected off the left post before skidding on the goal line. In the ninth round of penalty kicks between Sporting Kansas City and Portland, the break of the ball would eventually decide the postseason fate of the two teams.
The shot from Sporting KC rookie Saad Abdul-Salaam, of course, never crossed the line. Portland’s season remained alive by merely inches, and two rounds of penalty kicks later, Sporting KC was done.
Four weeks after that remarkable first-round survival, Portland is still playing. And playing well.
The Timbers will visit the Columbus Crew at 3 p.m. Sunday for the MLS Cup. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
Here’s what you need to know about the finalists of the 20th MLS championship:
Why they’re here: Offense. Offense. Offense. Over the course of the regular season, Columbus was second in MLS with 58 goals in 34 games. In four playoff matches, it has scored six more goals.
Path to the Cup: Defeated Montreal 4-3 in Eastern Conference semifinals series; defeated New York Red Bulls 2-1 in Eastern Conference finals series
Kansas City connection: A big one. Columbus leading scorer Kei Kamara had his professional breakout season in Kansas City in 2010. He scored 38 goals over parts of five seasons with Sporting KC before transferring to Middlesbrough (England) in September 2013.
His return to MLS — Columbus had his rights with the top allocation ranking — has been a smooth transition. Kamara tied for the league lead with 22 goals this season and finished runner-up in the league MVP voting. However, Kamara is a game-time decision after suffering an injury in practice Saturday.
Championship history: The Crew defeated the New York Red Bulls 3-1 to win the 2008 MLS Cup.
Why they’re here: The Timbers were the lowest-scoring club to make the playoffs, but they were superb on the road. Portland’s seven road victories were tied for the most in MLS over the regular season. Might that factor in Sunday?
Path to the Cup: Defeated Sporting KC 2-2 (7-6 PKs) in Western Conference knockout round; defeated Vancouver 2-0 in Western Conference semifinals series; defeated FC Dallas 5-3 in Western Conference finals series
Kansas City connection: Portland midfielder Jack Jewsbury was drafted by the then-Kansas City Wizards in the fifth round of the 2003 MLS SuperDraft. He spent eight seasons with the Wizards, winning a U.S. Open Cup in 2004. Jewsbury attended Kickapoo (Springfield, Mo.) High School.
Championship history: Portland has never won an MLS championship.