Photo by Joe Nicholson/USA Today Sports Images
By JASON MITCHELL
SEATTLE– If any team needed a break, it was the Seattle Sounders.
Ravaged by injuries, suspensions, and international call-ups for much of the summer, the Sounders came into Sunday afternoon’s match against the Portland Timbers having lost nine of their last 11 matches, out of the playoff spots, desperate for a win.
And a break they got. Despite being outplayed for much of the match, the Sounders escaped with a 2-1 win over the Timbers in front of 64,358 at CenturyLink Field.
“They are tired,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said about a team playing its fifth game in 15 days. “They know they can play better, but they also know they got a result through grit and determination today. They set a goal for themselves today to get to three points. It didn’t matter how.”
No surprise, Designated Player Obafemi Martins was involved in both Seattle goals.
The Sounders first struck in just the sixth minute. Nelson Valdez took the ball off Nat Borchers’ feet with a powerful tackle in the penalty area. Martins then recovered, beating both Alvas Powell and George Fochive to the ball and converting past Adam Kwarasey from 7 yards out for the 1-0 lead and his team-leading 10th goal of the season.
Outshot and overmatched throughout the first half, the Sounders nonetheless doubled the lead in the 42nd minute on a Brad Evans penalty kick. Referee Alan Kelly awarded the penalty after Kwarasey took down Martins in the penalty area. Timbers players and coaches vehemently argued the call.
“The reality is I call a spade a spade and the official was very poor today,” said Portland head coach Caleb Porter, who also suggested Kelly was “sleepwalking” through the game.
After threatening time and again on set pieces, Portland finally found the back of the net in the 58th minute when an unmarked Jack Jewsbury scored from just 6 yards out off a Diego Valeri corner kick.
New Designated Player Lucas Melano missed a golden opportunity to equalize in the 78th minute, finding himself alone at the penalty spot but skipping a side volley past the left post. The Timbers earned a free kick at the end of stoppage time, but Valeri’s shot deflected off Valdez and curled out of bounds.
It was a disappointing end for a Portland team that controlled long stretches of the match.
“They had nothing,” Porter said of the Sounders. “I can’t even remember one time during the game when they broke us down. Their high-powered, big-budget team had trouble.”
With the win, the Sounders (12-13-2, 38 points) have now won two of three in league play and have reclaimed the sixth and final Western Conference playoff spot from the San Jose Earthquakes. While still missing Clint Dempsey and Andreas Ivanschitz to leg injuries, the club as a whole is rounding into health as it hits the homestretch.
Seattle now leads the all-time MLS series with their archrivals 7-3-4, and has never lost to the Timbers at CenturyLink Field (5-0-2).
For their part, the Timbers (11-9-7, 40 points) lost their first match in five games and saw their standings lead over the Sounders and Earthquakes reduced to just two points.
They were not, however, holding their heads after the match.
“I wouldn’t say we ‘almost’ outplayed them,” said Borchers. “We definitely outplayed them tonight. Any casual (fan) would agree with that statement. We also played as a team.”
Portland nearly equalized just minutes after Martins opened the scoring, but Jewsbury’s short-range header off a free kick sailed just wide right.
Missing midfielder Diego Chara to suspension, the Timbers nonetheless dominated the remainder of the first half — putting up 13 shots and earning six corners in the process — but goalkeeper Stefan Frei delivered a pair of big saves to keep the Timbers off the scoreboard.
“I think he is one of the top goalkeepers in the league,” said Schmid.
Looking forward, the Sounders host Toronto FC next weekend, while the Timbers host Sporting KC on Sept. 9.