Photo by Jane Gershovich/JaneG. Photography
By JASON MITCHELL
TUKWILA, Wash. — Major League Soccer’s fiercest rivals met on a sultry midsummer night in the quarterfinals of the nation’s oldest soccer tournament, and the match provided just about everything anyone could have expected.
Brilliant strikes. Stellar goalkeeping. Player and coaching staff ejections. A last-gasp goal to force extra time. Even failing grandstand lights and a busted scoreboard that left fans keeping time on their phones.
In the end, the Seattle Sounders somehow survived on Wednesday without a penalty shootout, besting the Portland Timbers 3-1 in front of 4,233 at Starfire Stadium.
The victory advances the Sounders to the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, where they will host the Chicago Fire on Aug. 13 at Starfire Stadium. The Fire topped the NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks 3-1 earlier Wednesday night.
The Sounders’ win did not come easily. It took great work all night from Stefan Frei and a late one-man advantage.
With the score tied 1-1 in the 111th minute and Portland down to 10 men shortly after losing Diego Chara to a red card, late substitute Kenny Cooper got on the end of a cross from Gonzalo Pineda. The former Timber sent a glancing header over Donovan Ricketts’ outstretched hands for the 2-1 lead and his fourth goal of the 2014 tournament.
Marco Pappa sealed the victory less than five minutes later, getting free on the counter, creating space with a bit of mesmerizing footwork, and burying a 19-yard shot past a helpless Ricketts.
The Sounders are now 16-0-1 at home in the U.S. Open Cup. They are also 10-0-1 at home against MLS opponents in the tournament, and have outscored MLS teams 25-7 in those 11 matches.
Chara picked up the red card for a reckless tackle on Pappa in the first period of extra time. The Timbers bench vehemently protested the call, and assistant coach Cameron Knowles was ejected between extra-time periods—apparently for continuing to argue Chara’s card.
Seattle’s overtime strikes wouldn’t have been necessary but for some late magic from the Timbers, magic that has come to seem almost commonplace for Portland.
With just seconds left in regulation stoppage time and the Timbers pouring on the pressure, Darlington Nagbe finally broke through for Portland, working a quick one-two combination with Steve Zakuani before rifling an equalizing shot past goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
Only superb goalkeeping from Frei kept the Timbers off the board for the first 92 minutes. The first-year Sounder recorded eight saves and repeatedly denied Gaston Fernandez, who came into the match riding back-to-back Open Cup braces.
Frei first pawed a long-distance Ferndandez shot over the crossbar in just the fifth minute, then snuffed out two more Fernandez attempts in the 21st and 57th minutes, denied Fernandez in the 84th minute while still on the ground from a previous save, and, finally, dropped to stuff a Fernandez rocket in the 102nd minute.
Osvaldo Alonso opened the scoring in the 69th minute, soaring at the back post to high kick a Lamar Neagle cross off both Ricketts and the crossbar to put the Sounders up 1-0. It was Alonso’s first goal of the season in any competition.
With a nationally-televised match against each other looming this weekend, both teams fielded mixed but strong starting lineups. Key absences included Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, and Marco Pappa for the Sounders, and Will Johnson and Darlington Nagbe for the Timbers. Pappa, Johnson, and Nagbe all played significant second-half minutes.
The loss ends the Timbers’ quest to return to the semifinals, where they were ousted by Real Salt Lake ousted last year. It is also another disappointment in a largely underwhelming season. Expected by many to contend for the MLS Cup and the Supporters’ Shield, the Timbers currently have just 21 points from 18 matches and sit outside the playoff picture, although they are second in the league in scoring with 30 goals.
With the win, Seattle is now two victories away from winning the tournament for the fourth time in six years. Seattle lifted three straight Open Cup trophies from 2009 to 2011, fell to Sporting Kansas City on penalties in the 2012 final, and was upset by the lower-tier Tampa Bay Rowdies in an early round match last year.
The stadium’s lone scoreboard and clock went dark in the 85th minute, leaving fans guessing or tracking time themselves for the remainder of the match.
Looking forward, the Sounders (11-4-2, 35 points) will host the Timbers (4-5-9, 21 points) at CenturyLink Field on Sunday evening in league play.