SEATTLE – It appears to be far from over, with even greater milestones in the waiting, but the Portland Timbers' magical 2013 season continues to break ground.
They checked off a few more never-before seen feats on Saturday night in the first leg of their MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Semifinal matchup against bitter rivals the Seattle Sounders.
Going into their first ever trip to the playoffs, facing a game in one of the most hostile home venues in MLS, where the Timbers have never won or even led, it would be easy not to expect much. Toss in the fact that the Timbers weathered almost a 90-minute onslaught by the Sounders, who dominated possession and unleashed a flurry of set pieces, including 11 corner kicks, and nobody would have blamed Portland for wilting.
That, however, was not the case as Portland took Seattle’s best punch and countered with a 2-1 victory that has them sitting pretty for the fixture’s second leg Thursday night at a welcoming JELD-WEN Field in Portland.
“You’ve got two good teams, teams that don’t want to lose, our team refuses to lose and Seattle is in our way right now,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter told the media after the game. “We want to move on in this playoff tournament. Seattle is the team we drew, and now we’re one step away.”
MLSSoccer.com Postgame Rewind: Nov. 2
What’s more, Portland even welcomed, to a certain degree, the type of scenario that played out on Saturday evening.
Porter said it was their plan to sit back a bit, to “let them have a little bit more of the ball so we could roast them on the counter attacks.” And Seattle took what Portland gave them, wringing out a 60-percent possession rate with 20 attempts on goal to Portland’s 10.
It’s just that the Timbers were more dangerous on the few opportunities they did get, scoring first with a Ryan Johnson goal in the 15th minute on a counter and then relying on a little bit of brilliance from Darlington Nagbe’s 67th-minute strike.
“I thought we were very dangerous on the counter all day long and I thought we were organized,” Porter said. “For us to stop that team on the road with the talent they have, given the freedom they’re given to float around, they didn’t get a goal from the run of play. I think that’s a real positive that we defended well against them.”
But just how did the Timbers stay so cool and composed when nearly every outside factor seemed to sway against them?
“Caleb talks to us, and over the course of the season we’ve proven to be the best team in the West, so just go out there and play like we are and stay humble through everything,” Nagbe said.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.