Sounders have not been able to advance in a two-legged playoff series in MLS Cup. After beating Colorado Rapids last week in the 4th and 5th place play-in It looked like Sounders had gotten over being snake-bit in the MLS Regular Season, not having won a match since September 13th. Seattle earned a shot at their I-5 rival, Portland Timbers. Caleb Porter had been up scouting his potential opponents in Seattle and his team appeared prepared to face a new-look lineup for Sounders. Both teams nearly at full-strength at the end of the season, there was plenty to be excited about with this Cascadia fixture.
Sounders got the better of play early, created chances, but were unable to finish them. Brad Evans found himself with a decent shot early that went wide of the Timbers net. Ryan Johnson returned fire a minute later on mirror image chance, perhaps a few yards further, that went similarly wide. Sounders came right back at Timbers when Adam Moffat made an uncharacteristic run with the ball down the left wing and skinned Diego Chara to the inside with a precision that made you wonder if Sounders had the Portland Timbers on the ropes.
Portland’s attack looked anemic and too willing to take speculative chances from distance. Will Johnson sent a couple of shots into the Brougham End and the Emerald City Supporters’ section. But it was boys in Rose Red that would draw first blood. ‘Captain’ Jack Jewsbury overlapping from his right back position sent a short cross to the near post that somehow found its way to Ryan Johnson. Somehow in this instance means that Jhon Kennedy Hurtado didn’t follow his mark, Ryan Johnson, although he was closer to the danger-man than Djimi Traore the entire time he inexplicably quit following him. Marcus Hahnemann didn’t cover his near post. The ball may have even hit him on the way in the 15th minute.
Dempsey added weight to a cliche within five minutes on a set piec that forced Donovan Ricketts into an incredible save. Another Ricketts was able to push just over the crossbar.
Lamar Neagle came out of the locker room and earned a yellow card within moments of the second half kickoff. A foolish and unnecessary infraction against Diego Valeri that will cost him the return leg. Luckily for his coach Obafemi Martins may be available.
Alonso got caught ball watching when Nagbe went wide where Rosales was shadowing him. Traore was there to cover but missed his tackle and left Marcus Hahnemann with no chance at saving Nagbe’s shot. It’s curious to note how deep the Sounders backline is when Nagbe receives the ball, he’s exactly (thanks to the magic of gridiron technology) 14 yards from the endline. That’s too deep when the ball was passed from 25 yards out, the line needs to be higher, especially if Adam Moffat is going to be 3 yards off of Khalif Alhassan when he plays the ball in. In defense of the Scotsman, he brought the defensive pressure from the middle of the park where he was put similar pressure on Will Johnson who supplied the ball. Traore missed his tackle but Hahnemann should have pushed his defensive line higher.
At the last possible moment it was Alonso who brought a glimmer of hope for his team when he took Shalrie Joseph’s flicked on header from Mauro Rosales’ corner and gave the Sounders a fighting chance going to Portland.