SEATTLE – It may have been the type of game that neither team deserved to lose, but at the moment, that’s of little consolation for the Seattle Sounders.
Seattle took part in one of the wildest matches in the history of the MLS Cup Playoffs on Thursday against the Portland Timbers – a match that saw the teams combine for three goals after the 68th minute to level their Western Conference Semifinals series on aggregate and send it into extra time. After Dairon Asprilla and Nicolas Lodeiro swapped goals again, Seattle bowed out in the most brutal fashion possible as the Timbers prevailed on penalty kicks to advance to the Western Conference Championship.
For a neutral fan, it was likely one of the most entertaining games they’ll watch all year. But for Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer and his players, the prevailing emotion at Seattle’s postgame media availability was heartbreak.
“I’m actually at a loss for words because [the players] put everything into the game,” Schmetzer said. “You can’t fault them for effort, you can’t fault them for tactics, you can’t fault them for sticking together. They never quit. So you just thank them for the effort, for all the work they put in over a long season and just try and get them to individually take away all the good things they did during the season and try and build on that for next season.”
The Sounders have been through tough defeats like this before, as recently as last year when they lost to Toronto FC in the 2017 MLS Cup. But asked if this was the most painful loss he’s experienced since he’s manned Seattle’s sidelines, Schmetzer answered in the affirmative – citing the extra sting that comes with watching an unquestioned top rival celebrate on your home field.
“I would absolutely say yes for a lot of different reasons,” Schmetzer said. “Number one, I would be remiss not to say that Portland came in and did the job they needed to do. Gio [Savarese] is a good young coach and he had his guys prepared.
“But it’s horrible when you lose and it’s horrible when you come so close because we were close in the game. And then having our archrivals celebrate like they did on your home field, that hurts. So there’s a lot of emotion there within in the game. Some of the highs and lows make it a tough loss. It’s definitely a draining, draining situation.”
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Thursday’s match actually started slowly, as the sides battled to a scoreless first half. But after Raul Ruidiaz’s 68th-minute opener put Seattle in the driver’s seat, the fireworks started with Portland’s Sebastian Blanco netting to put the Timbers back on top. Ruidiaz then struck at the death to send it to extra time, which saw both teams score yet again to ensure the shootout.
All told, it will undoubtedly be looked back on as arguably the most memorable display in the history of the Sounders-Timbers rivalry. That reality was evident after Asprilla put in game-winning penalty kick, with both sides engaging in more postgame handshakes than usual as a sign of mutual respect between the heated rivals.
“I think there’s always been respect between the players,” Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “We understand the rivalry is a real thing, that’s why I think today there was a lot of heart and soul poured into this game on both sides. And it was a pleasure to be a part of that. This is going to go down as one of the feistiest and probably best games in the rivalry history. So, there’s definitely respect there. It sucks to come out on the bottom in the end but I’m proud of our guys.”