It was always going to be difficult for the Timbers in Seattle without Will Johnson and Diego Chara. But for forty-five minutes on Saturday, the Portland Timbers were dominant, carving their way through the Seattle midfield with ease. But as has become a habit in big road fixtures, they failed to capitalize. And when Seattle found their inevitable goal on a set piece in the second half, Portland was left to rue what could have been, but wasn’t on account of their lack of opportunism.
The Timbers opened the chances in the third minute, when Diego Valeri found Jack Jewsbury on a deep corner kick, but Captain Jack’s looping header was cleared off the line on DeAndre Yedlin.
Just two minutes later, Seattle would just miss their first set piece chance. After Brad Evans served a ball beyond the backpost, Shalrie Joseph got free head to it, but sent it poorly wide with Donovan Ricketts caught in no-man’s land.
Perhaps the Timbers’ best chance of the night came in the 16th minute, when Diego Valeri found Ryan Johnson on a beautifully designed and weighted through ball, but Johnson couldn’t get his feet right and Michael Gspurning was quick off his line to take the ball off the Jamaican’s boots.
Portland flirted with the spectacular in the 34th minute, but once again came up with nothing. After Kalif Alhassan did well to gather a partial clearance from a Rodney Wallace cross, he and Darlington Nagbe played to Valeri 25 yards out. The Maestro rocketed a shot through the Seattle defense that Gspurning could do nothing about, only to be denied by the far post.
Three minutes later, MLS Headquarters very nearly erupted into self-congratulatory euphoria. After the Sounders did nicely to work the ball around to Leo Gonzalez on the left wing, he sent a cross into Clint Dempsey – who plays for Seattle now, if you hadn’t heard – but Deuce’s touch was too heavy and Ricketts came off his line to deflect the ball out for the Timbers defense to clear.
The Timbers weren’t done with their first half onslaught, however. Sparked by a brilliant Darlington Nagbe run down the right side in first half stoppage time, the prodigy sent a nicely shaped ball to Johnson at the far post, but Yedlin and Gspurning combined to block Johnson’s header.
After dominating much of the first half missing their entire central midfield, the Timbers proved they could play toe-to-toe with Seattle even in their current setup.
The second half would bring Portland back down to earth.
Seattle struck in the 60th minute, when second half entrant Mauro Rosales sent a set piece from the left wing into the box, where Eddie Johnson beat Alvas Powell to it and flicked inside the far post.
The Timbers made noises about getting it back two minutes later, when Jose Valencia harried Gspurning into a hurried clearance that Kalif Alhassan picked off and took to the top of the box, but the Austrian keeper made a diving save to his left.
But the second half belonged to the Sounders, and in the seventieth minute they would’ve made it two but for some heroics from Ricketts. After Rosales got free down the left, his cross was partially deflected by Alvas Powell, but nevertheless fell to Eddie Johnson at the far post. Johnson’s header looked goalbound, but Ricketts reacted instantly to knock the ball away. Dempsey tried to bicycle home the rebound, but caught nothing but Powell – which apparently isn’t a foul anymore.
Five minutes later, Deuce found himself on the end of another Rosales corner, but his header – which may have been off target – was partially cleared by Valeri before Ricketts gathered a reentry cross after a scrum in front of goal.
Try as they might, however, the Timbers couldn’t find their first half attacking verve to make a serious run at the equalizer. In the 88th minute, Nagbe put his foot through a ball from twenty yards, but Gspurning saw it the whole way and tapped over the bar. The last gasp would come well into stoppage time, when a deflected cross found its way to Andrew Jean-Baptiste in the box, but his well-nodded header to the far post was captured by Gspurning to secure the win.
With the odds stacked against them in the absence of their central midfield, the Timbers put together a solid performance, especially in the first half. But, as the Timbers have learned on multiple occasions, solid performances mean very little if you don’t get the result.
And on Sunday evening in Seattle, the Timbers once again failed to get their result, making a once-smooth path the playoffs look increasingly perilous.
Notes & Observations
- Porter’s tactics surprised me a little bit once again, but this time to his credit. With the central midfield so banged up, I expected Portland to play a little bit more compact and choose an area of the field on which to focus their attack, so as to provide a little more cover to the central midfielders. Rather, the Timbers spread the field and pushed both fullbacks forward, dropping Jack Jewsbury very deep. This put a lot of faith in Jewsbury and Alhassan to not get burned, as it was inevitable the Timbers would be opened up once or twice. The makeshift central midfielders both did well in this respect, and the Timbers – especially Diego Valeri – terrorized Seattle in the spaces these tactics created in the middle.
- It’s incredible Ozzie Alonso escaped the book on Sunday. On the night he committed five fouls, all of which were entirely tactical, and most coming from behind with no play on the ball. Alonso staying out of the book was a significant advantage for the Sounders, as anytime Nagbe got loose, Alonso could chop him down with impunity. If Alonso goes into the book sometime around halftime – as, by all rights, he should have – the Timbers would have likely had an easier time finding space in the center of the field.
Donovan Ricketts, 6.5 – Came up huge on a number of occasions. Nothing he could do about the concession, but his grade is deflated just a little bit by a couple avoidable spills.
Michael Harrington, 5.5 – A pretty classic Harrington night. Didn’t contribute anything of note to the attack other than the secondary effect of the spacing created by his presence, but defended competently. If you’re dissatisfied with this performance from Harrington, you’re never going to be able to appreciate Mikey.
Andrew Jean-Baptiste, 6 – Had a pretty tough task going back and forth between Dempsey and Eddie Johnson, and his backline generally acquitted itself well.
Pa Modou Kah, 3.5 – Also had a decent game in defense, as he took the brunt of the Deuce onslaught and kept him relatively quiet. His grade suffers, however, for picking up a yellow card and begging to be sent off in the scrum. The Timbers will be without Kah for at least one match, if not more if the Disciplinary Committee has something to say about it. With a dearth of options at center back right now, Kah really hurt the Timbers’ playoff chances on Sunday night.
Alvas Powell, 5 – Struggled a little bit in the attack despite getting down the line well, but had his best defensive game as a Timber. Lamar Neagle got by him a time or two, but for the most part the youngster won that battle. His only big sin was a decisive one, however, as he lost Johnson on the concession.
Jack Jewsbury, 6 – Really good, pragmatic performance from Jack at the pivot point on Sunday. He had a big task, as the Sounders were set up to attack up the gut by dropping Dempsey deeper and having Johnson play over the top of him, but, especially in the first half, the Timbers forced Seattle to send crosses in from the wings, where Jean-Baptiste and Kah could clean up.
Kalif Alhassan, 5.5 – Tremendous first half. Anonymous second half. Kalif was the player Porter asked the most of on Saturday, as – although he played up at times – he was tasked with being the second defensive central midfielder. For a position he’d never played, Kalif did a nice job of breaking up passing lanes and – after a nervy first few minutes – launching the attack from deeper central positions than he’s used to.
Rodney Wallace, 6 – Popped up all over the field on Sunday. Did most of his damage from his usual advanced spot on the left wing, but floated centrally and even flipped to the right for a period during the second half.
Diego Valeri, 7 – Didn’t get much of an opportunity to make his mark on the second half, as the Timbers deeper midfield players struggled to find him to relieve pressure. But he was far and away the best player on the field in the first half, just missing both a magnificent assist and a surefire Goal of the Week.
Darlington Nagbe, 5.5 – Spent most of his night being fouled by Alonso. Nagbe was the one Timber that was a little bit quieter in the first half. He made up for it in the second, as he was the Timbers’ most dangerous player when he found space to run into in wide areas, usually only to be sent to the turf by Alonso without real punishment from the referee.
Ryan Johnson, 3 – He did some of his usual nice work when he floated deeper, but, in the end, his wastefulness in finishing doomed the Timbers.
Jose Valencia, 6 – Trencito’s work rate has improved substantially over the course of the last several weeks, and it’s starting to pay dividends for the Timbers. On Wednesday, it was his effort that forced a poor clearance that Alhassan fired home for the third goal. On Sunday, his pressure again forced a poor clearance that Kalif nearly put back for the equalizer.
Sal Zizzo, 5 – Came on for Powell and assumed a position on the right side of midfield. Did nicely to work into space on the touchline a number of times, but also had a couple crucial overhit crosses.
Ben Zemanski, 5 – Came on for Jewsbury late, but didn’t do a whale of a lot in the attack.
Preseason Prediction: Sounders 1, Timbers 0. Alonso.
Actual Result Sounders 1, Timbers 0. Johnson.
Onward, Rose City!
 Paging Franck Songo’o.