(Reuters) - Portland Timbers beat Orlando City SC 2-1 on Tuesday in the MLS is Back Tournament final, bringing an end to a competition at Disney World in Florida that got off to a shaky start when two teams were withdrawn amid a cluster of COVID-19 tests.
Defenders Larrys Mabiala and Dario Zuparic scored off set pieces for Portland, who also earned a spot in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League for winning the month-long World Cup-style tournament that was played entirely without fans in attendance.
After the game Mabiala, wearing a protective facemask with “Champions” written on it, said he was eager to get home to his family after spending over a month in a highly restricted campus-like environment.
“I have three kids and two are toddlers ... I’ve had my son calling me every morning crying and asking me when I was going to come back,” said Mabiala. “So we told ourselves we just need to make it worth it, and nobody wanted to go back to our houses without the trophy.”
Mabiala opened the scoring when he headed home off a Diego Valeri free kick in the 27th minute before Orlando’s Mauricio Pereyra finished a cross from Nani inside the left post to pull the match level going into half time.
Portland, who like Orlando were not among the teams favoured coming into the tournament, went ahead for good in the 66th minute when Zuparic scored his first goal of the season.
Eryk Williamson collected a Diego Valeri corner kick and took a shot that was deflected by Jeremy Ebobisse to Zuparic’s feet and the Croatian defender swept home the game-winning goal from close range.
With the tournament complete, MLS will resume its regular season on Wednesday with teams in their respective home cities and the majority of games played without fans because of local regulations related to the virus.
All 26 MLS clubs had played two regular season games when the 25th anniversary season was halted in March because of the novel coronavirus, and the league then created the Florida tournament in a bid to get players back on the field.
Dallas and Nashville, who were forced out of the MLS is Back Tournament because of COVID-19 cases, will play each other on Wednesday and Sunday.
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; editing by Richard Pullin
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