The New York Red Bulls lost the 2018 Eastern Conference Final, 3-1 on aggregate. But the team and its fans could at least look to the Western Conference Final for consolation: Sporting Kansas City hosted the second leg of that series; all KC needed to do was beat Portland Timbers in KC and RBNY would book its place in the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League.
The reason KC beating Portland would give RBNY a CCL berth next year is because the one remaining spot for an MLS club in CCL is for the winner of the 2018 MLS Cup. But Atlanta United has already clinched a CCL spot and so has KC - so if either of those teams were to win MLS Cup, the open spot would fall to RBNY, whose aggregate points record over the last two seasons is the best of the remaining teams eligible for the open berth (i.e. American MLS clubs; Canadian teams need not apply).
The first leg of the 2018 MLS Western Conference Final was played in Portland and finished 0-0. So all RBNY needed was a routine home win from Sporting KC to at least close out its 2018 season knowing it was playing CCL next year.
KC’s Daniel Salloi got the memo, scoring in the 20th minute to put the home team ahead.
Sadly, Portland’s Sebastian Blanco did not get the memo. His 51st-minute strike was a goal for the ages - and it put the Timbers ahead on away goals.
Then Diego Valeri found the net in the 61st minute, and now KC needed to score twice.
Gerso Fernandes gave KC (and RBNY) hope in the 81st minute.
Valeri crushed that hope at the end of a long period of stoppage time. Portland won, 3-2.
Portland moves on to play for MLS Cup in Atlanta on December 8. It has been the lower seed in every round of these playoffs so far: it won’t fear the prospect of playing one more knockout game on the road.
RBNY fans face the perhaps difficult prospect of choosing between rooting for Atlanta (who just bounced RBNY out of the playoffs) or Portland (whose head coach, Giovanni Savarese, is a MetroStars legend).
CCL or Savarese? The choice need not be made until December 8.