Portland Timbers hope "special night" vs. Seattle Sounders can turn 2023 around


PORTLAND — Going into Saturday evening's Cascadia Cup derby against Seattle Sounders FC at Providence Park, the Portland Timbers were enduring a rough start to their 2023 MLS campaign, collecting just five points through their first seven matches while dealing with a laundry list of injuries and absences.

In dire need of a bounce-back result to get their season on track, they couldn't have earned one more emphatically: By the time the dust settled, the Timbers were 4-1 victors, a result delivered by an all-out blitz in the second half. They ran riot over their regional counterparts with four unanswered goals in the span of 19 minutes.

It started in the 71st minute with Seattle leading 1-0 through a Raúl Ruidíaz opener, when Timbers forward Dairon Asprilla scored one of the best goals of the 2023 season so far – a bicycle kick finish that electrified the home crowd and set off the second-half barrage.

"The energy that we got after Asprilla's amazing goal – that was I think the moment that took the team to a different level," Timbers head coach Gio Savarese said at his postgame press conference. "And then we finished very, very strong. Very good. I mean, one of the best finishes I would say that we have had."

Added Asprilla: "I stay ready every time for a bicycle. When I see the ball, it's perfect for me to try. When you have a dream, you try, every time."

Upper hand

It's the continuation of a dominant stretch of form the Timbers are experiencing against their Pacific Northwest foes, marking four straight regular-season victories.

For one of the league's most historically competitive rivalries, it's a bit of a surprising trend, but one Savarese said shows how much the derby matches mean to his players. Form, as happened in Matchday 8, sometimes goes out the window. Seattle had entered atop the Western Conference table.

"It's different ways, but it's being able to execute the plan that we have and put the right energy, it's of a different level," Savarese said. "Because this game you have to play with a lot more intensity. But if you ask me what's the reason why we've been good in these past few games against them, the reason I can say is that we understand how important these games are and we give everything that we have."

Building momentum

Given how their season started, the emotional victory could hardly have come at a better time for Portland as they look to climb back above the Western Conference's Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line.

The Timbers are well aware of how much a rivalry victory can serve to change a team's fortunes, embarking on a four-match winning streak immediately after topping the Sounders in an August 2022 meeting at Providence Park. Perhaps a similar knock-on effect awaits in 2023, even with midfielder Eryk Williamson (ACL) out for the year and DP winger Yimmi Chara (hamstring) still sidelined.

"It has the possibility," Savarese said. "Hopefully it's like last year that we turned our season exactly like the game against Seattle we played here at home. But only getting the right results in the next few games will tell that hopefully we turn around the season and that we are going to be more competitive, hopefully get more points and get a little bit higher up on the table."

To do so, Portland have another tough opponent in Matchday 9 when visiting Eastern Conference contender FC Cincinnati. Pat Noonan's team has impressed this season, but is coming off a shocking 5-1 drubbing at expansion side St. Louis CITY SC on Saturday.

"A special night," Savarese said. "Very proud of the guys. Now we enjoy tonight and then we have to start working again tomorrow. More games to play, and they're all very tough coming in."