Sounders hail character, team effort in gritty win at Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. — After coming from behind twice to win 3-2 at JELD-WEN Field on Sunday, Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid hailed his team’s newfound character. According to the veteran coach, the Sounders’ growing level of maturity carried them through a match they might have had difficulty winning in either of the past two years.

“Our character is better,” Schmid said in his postgame press conference. “We don’t let a setback take us down.”

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Schmid went on to explain that this 2011 Sounders team seems to respond to adversity better than previous squads.

In a match with as many swings as Sunday’s contest, Seattle’s mental toughness helped them come back from two Portland goals that were last touched by Sounders players. First, Kalif Alhassan’s cross deflected off Jeff Parke and into the Sounders’ net just after haltime. Then, Jorge Perlaza’s shot got a fortunate deflection of Tyson Wahl’s shin to beat goalkeeper Kasey Keller in the 69th minute.

The misfortune led Schmid to joke that the Sounders ended up “scoring five goals tonight.”

Despite those two potentially deflating setbacks, Seattle battled back to tie and eventually win the game. Keller credited his team’s mental ability to refuse to settle for the draw and push through for the winning goal.

“We also had a great chance to score the fourth,” Keller said. “Just a great team effort.”

Even after the victory, Keller kept his eyes on the long-term prize. With FC Dallas, Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy surging, the MLS Best XI selection talked about having to keep pace with those teams to be in contention for the end-of-season honors.

Based on recent form, Seattle look a strong candidate to make a push for the Supporters’ Shield. After an uneven start to the season, the club is undefeated in its past eight matches (5-0-3) and has won its last four out of five. After this weekend’s slate of MLS games, the Sounders stand a point above FC Dallas in the overall standings.

But they face a challenging week ahead. First up is a Wednesday US Open Cup quarterfinal against the Galaxy in a competition the Sounders organization takes very seriously. Then, the defending MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids come to town in a game that will be played on the newly installed temporary grass surface at CenturyLink Field.

But that comes later. On Sunday, Timbers nemesis Roger Levesque wanted to take a moment to celebrate this win at the home of Seattle’s most fervent rivals.

“It’s as exciting an atmosphere as I’ve played in here in Portland,” Levesque said. “With the game going how it did — us going down a goal, fighting back, going down a goal, fighting back — I think it just kept building and building and creating that drama to the very end, when the good guys came out on top.”

Andrew Winner covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewWinnerMLS