Seattle Sounders savor "fresh start" after huge rivalry win over Portland Timbers

Raul Ruidiaz - Celebrating - Goal vs. Portland

The Seattle Sounders needed this one.

Going into their Cascadia derby against the Portland Timbers at Providence Park on Sunday, the defending MLS Cup champs were in a bit of a funk. They had been unceremoniously bounced from the MLS is Back Tournament by LAFC, and never seemed to kick into full gear in Orlando. Then, they watched as their arch-rival Timbers went on to win the whole thing.

Sunday's match provided a chance to reset the narrative. And the Sounders did just that, exploding for three second-half goals in a 13-minute span, two courtesy of Raul Ruidiaz, en route to a convincing 3-0 victory.

"We've been sputtering a little bit," goalkeeper Stefan Frei told reporters on a video call after the game. "I think we haven't been playing our best football. So, we kind of viewed it as a chance to restart and maybe just get a fresh start, if you will, so happy to see the way we played today.

"I'm happy to get a result down here, as always."

Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer also said that the performance was necessary from a psychological standpoint. So much so, he explained, that his biggest concern for his team coming into the match was simply to put on the type of good, cohesive performance that has thus far eluded them for most of 2020, irrespective of the end result.

While it took Seattle into the second half to get going on Sunday, the three-goal outburst was certainly an encouraging sign that the Sounders are looking like their usual selves.

"Look, regardless of the result tonight — and obviously we're very happy with the result and three points and all that — I wanted them to play well," Schmetzer said. "Had it been a draw, had we not gone away with anything, I just needed the team to believe they can play well. It was a big undertaking here after Portland's great success in the tournament.

"We had messaged, what are our objectives? Our objectives are to win the game, that's always number one. Number two, can we keep a clean sheet? And number three, just to play well. We talked about the momentum shifts and how these derby matches turn out, games against Portland down here are always tough, I just needed them to play well and they played well and they achieved their objective of three points and winning the game."

As for Ruidiaz, his second-half heroics might be the most encouraging sign of all for Seattle. 

When he's on, the Peruvian striker is one of the most lethal goal-scorers in MLS but, like the rest of the squad, he never quite seemed to fully get in rhythm during the tournament. He couldn't have picked a more crucial moment to get back on track, and has now racked up seven career goals in five matches against Portland. The standout substitute shift from fellow forward Will Bruin, who assisted on Seattle's final goal from Kelvin Leerdam, was an added bonus.

"That shows you top players," Frei said. "Top players thrive in these moments. They love the pressure, they love to want to make the difference and to be in the spotlight. So, it's great because these games are always heated. There's natural pride in the outcome of these games, it's instilled in the rivalry. 

"You feel that people have that feel and have those feelings of passion and that rubs off on you and that heightens the tension. The good players will rise above that and thrive in that environment, and [Ruidiaz] certainly is one of them."