SEATTLE – The first time may be the charm for the Portland Timbers.
Behind goals from Ryan Johnson and Darlington Nagbe, the Timbers took control of their Western Conference semifinal with a 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders on Saturday at CenturyLink Field in front of 38,507 fans. It was the Timbers’ first-ever MLS playoff game.
The series will resume on Thursday at JELD-WEN Field.
The Timbers were able to strike first with a goal that came solidly against the run of play thanks to Johnson's glancing header in the 15th minute. The Jamaican international was able to lose his mark with a run to the near post and Jack Jewsbury placed an inch-perfect cross between Johnson and Sounders goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann.
Diego Chará had helped create the opportunity with a weighted ball toward the end line, allowing Jewsbury to run onto it and whip in his cross.
Aside from the goal, the Timbers were mostly content to rely on their watertight defense and look for opportunities on the counter. They nearly got one in first-half stoppage time, getting out in numbers with Chara leading the charge. But after passing it off to Rodney Wallace, the Sounders were able to break up the chance.
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Portland bided their time well, though, and Nagbe was able to add a second goal in the 67th minute. Kalif Alhassan found himself unmarked on the right wing and put in a cross to Nagbe, who was streaking through the box. Sounders defender Djimi Traore left his feet in attempt to break up the pass, but Nagbe was able to touch it by him and then finished underneath Hahnemann.
Although the Sounders had most of the run of play and held just shy of 60% of the possession, they didn’t get a goal until the 90th minute. That’s when Osvaldo Alonso gave his team a lifeline in the series, pouncing on a ball that had fallen to his feet off a Shalrie Joseph header after Brad Evans' long throw.
The Sounders will surely feel as though they could have done more with their chances. Clint Dempsey had several opportunities to score, hitting the crossbar with one header, having another from inside the goal box saved, missing an open left-footed attempt in the 75th minute, and nearly converting on a couple free kicks.
The Sounders ended up getting 11 corner kicks – eight in the first half – but didn’t force a save on a single one. They also had numerous free-kick attempts from dangerous areas.
Donovan Ricketts was able to make a diving save to stop Dempsey on one first-half attempt. Eddie Johnson also had an open look at a 49th-minute header off another Dempsey free kick, but sailed his shot wide.
Dempsey’s best chance came in the 87th minute, but his header off a Mauro Rosales corner hit off the turf and then hit the crossbar.
The loss continued an unfortunate streak for the Sounders, who have still never won the first leg of any playoff series in six attempts. They have been outscored 9-1 in those games. If they do stage a comeback, it will need to come without Lamar Neagle, who picked up his second yellow card of the postseason and will be suspended.
The Timbers had never before won a MLS game in Seattle, and in fact had never even led at CenturyLink Field.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Darlington Nagbe||The youngster brought in the biggest game he's played this season. Exquisite on the ball and put away a killer finish for the Timbers' second|
|2||Pa-Modou Kah||The Timbers center back had his work cut out for him and bid brilliantly, standing firm in the defense and making some crucial interceptions|
|3||Jack Jewsbury||Hurt the Sounders with his bombing runs up the flank, assisting the first and opening up space to help set up the second|