By James Morgan
The Seattle Sounders beat the Portland Timbers Sunday afternoon at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, 3-2, and before saying anything else about the match, let’s get a few clichés out of the way.
We’ll start with the most obvious; that a young Portland Timbers side managed to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” in part through an over-enthusiastic defense that drew a red card and penalty kick in the 83rd minute. Said penalty kick went home, taking with it any ideas the Timbers may have had with regard to beating their more polished rivals to the north.
Next, we’ll want to talk about how a young and desperate Timbers side managed to dominate most of the play, while still making a few critical mistakes that the always-opportunistic and obviously much more experienced Sounders were more than happy to capitalize on.
Finally, we’ll want to do away with the tired old trope about how the Timbers, an expansion side, are still going through growing pains. While it’s true that they are still struggling to find themselves as a team, it is also true that said disorganization, understandable though it may be, is ultimately a reflection on their competence.
The dirty truth of the matter, sans spin, is that the Timbers came out and played an excellent game and dominated most of the run of play, but in the end were eventually beaten by a technically superior side that, in it’s ability to capitalize on every Timbers error, showed why it is third in the Western Conference and a real threat to any side in MLS.
The match began with a spirited and determined Timbers side pushing hard down the sides in true John Spencer form. Notably, accomplished foward Kenny Cooper did not start. The promising yet unproven Kalif Alhassan took his place and in conjunction with the always dangerous Jorge Perlazza, they were able to put real pressure on Seattle’s goalkeepeer, Casey Keller.
In the event, Keller was more than equal to the threat and the Sounders responded aggressively, ostensibly in a bid to take the early point against the Timbers who are known to collapse when giving up early goals.
To their credit, the Timbers did not collapse, did not concede an early goal, and to the contrary, continued to push the pace against a Sounders side that was noticeably outrun in terms of speed, but that continued use smart positioning.
Matters came to a head in the first minute of stoppage time after the half when, amidst a scramble in the Sounders’ box, Seattle defender Jeff Parke botched a pass to Keller for an own goal.
The Timbers came out strong in the second half and showed no sign of their well-known lack of confidence. To the contrary, they continued to play an aggressive style down the sides that seemingly had the Sounders on their back foot.
Upward bound Sounders forward Freddy Montero was having none of it, however, and nine minutes into the half he curled a free kick past Troy Perkins for the equalizer.
Basically, it was hardcore game-time from then on out, and in the 69th minute Portland forward Jorge Perlazza upped the ante with a ferocious turn of speed that found him on the business end of Seattle’s backline. He knocked it in on a beautiful deflected cross that flew well past Keller and into the net.
The Sounders squad has been in a few fights, however, and did not lose its composure despite the roaring and hostile crowd, and in the 74th minute Montero beat Portland goalkeeper Troy Perkins on a well-played pass from midfielder Mauro Rosales.
With both sides tiring as the hard-fought match entered the final minutes of play, it looked as though the two teams might end their second meeting in yet another tie, provided of course that The Timbers did not suffer another late-game meltdown. The meltdown occurred in the 81st minute when Portland defender Eric Brunner earned a red-card for a reckless tackle against midfielder Osvaldo Alonso. Alonso Easily shot it past Perkins to give the Sounders the win. As to whether or not the red-card was warranted, Timbers head coach John Spencer said after the match, “I think it was 100 percent the correct call, penalty kick and a red-card. I don’t there’s any question if that.”
Other notes and comments:
It may not even be worth repeating, but I’ll say it anyways; the Timbers need to figure out how to shore up their defense. As coach John Spencer said, “I think it proved today that if you can’t defend, you’re not going to win games. I think offensively we did enough, but defensively if we keep leaking goals, we’re not going to win games.”
On a more positive note, the day did bring some good news for Timbers supporters as MLS announced that midfielder and team captain Jack Jewsbury has been selected to the 2011 AT&T MLS All-Star First XI. Jewsbury was one of the top vote-getters at midfield. It is his first MLS All-Star selection. He currently leads the Timbers in scoring with four goals and six assists.