SEATTLE — It doesn’t usually rain as hard at Qwest Field as it did Saturday night. A city that’s more used to drizzle and fog, Seattle saw the clouds open up less than an hour before the Sounders took on the Portland Timbers.
Unfortunately for the home side, those conditions suited the visitors as the two rivals battled to a 1-1 tie in their first derby in MLS.
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“[The weather] definitely affected the game,” said Sounders defender Tyson Wahl, who started and went 90 minutes at left back. “[But] there’s no excuses. You definitely can’t attribute that to the tie.”
Whereas Portland play a more direct, English-style game, Seattle prefer to build play with the ball on the ground. In the wet conditions, numerous Seattle players noted how difficult it was to pass effectively on the slick Qwest Field pitch.
Especially without Erik Friberg, who was expected to fill the attacking midfield role before he was injured at Friday’s practice, the Sounders couldn’t possess the ball to their satisfaction. When they did manage to move the ball effectively, they were rewarded with a goal in the early stages of the second half.
“In the second half of the game, we got a hold of the game based upon what we talked about: settling the game down a little bit — which was hard in this weather,” head coach Sigi Schmid said. “I think the weather suited them a little bit more in the sense that they just try and go direct anyway to a certain extent, to knock it up to their big men. They’re a little bit better at that game than we are.”
If the conditions were tough for Seattle, Portland didn’t appear to mind.
As Schmid noted in his postmatch comments, the Timbers like to play the ball in the air to towering striker Kenny Cooper. Such a strategy is not hampered by a slick field — if anything, the wet conditions may cause more havoc from unexpected bounces and mis-hit touches.
The long ball strategy worked for Portland in their equalizing goal. Jack Jewsbury connected with Mamadou Danso for the second consecutive match, with the center back just beating Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller to the lofted ball.
Even though Seattle knew Portland pride themselves on their set piece prowess, the Sounders were unable to prevent the goal.
“We thought we should have been able to hold the lead with a 1-0 score,” Wahl said. “We just made a couple errors on their free kick goal, which is where they are dangerous. … We knew we had to limit those and we didn’t. We paid the price.”
Andrew Winner covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewWinnerMLS