Coming off their midweek loss to the Seattle Sounders in the US Open Cup, Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said the team had effectively put that game behind them in preparation for Sunday’s league matchup against the same team.
Unfortunately, according to Porter, that game and its 120 minutes of action on the legs of Timbers players still had a say, and Seattle scored two second-half goals to come away with a 2-0 victory at CenturyLink Field.
“I thought we made it a game, kept things very tight, but especially in the second half I think the fatigue kicked in,” Porter told the media in his postgame comments. “Especially their attackers were fresh versus our defenders who played 120 minutes on Wednesday.”
Seattle did have eight outfield players who also played a majority of the minutes in the USOC game, but Porter cited the effect Clint Dempsey, in his return from the World Cup; Obafemi Martins, who also missed the USOC game and came on as a second-half substitute Sunday; and Marco Pappa, who only played 56 minutes on Wednesday, as turning the tide in the second half.
Dempsey opened the scoring on a back-post finish following two exceptional point-blank reaction saves from Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Rickets. And when the Timbers went to three on the backline to push for the equalizer, Pappa hit on a counter attack to put the game away.
“You could see Martins, Dempsey, these guys were fresh,” Porter said. “Especially Martins came on and paired with Dempsey and gave us problems. And I think our backline overall just looked like they were tired. And you can’t be tired running against Dempsey and Martins. And Dempsey proved why he’s one of the best players in our country.”
The second-half change of Martins for Chad Barrett appeared to add a bit more punch to Seattle’s attack and got Dempsey into the game after an uneventful first half for the US national team captain.
Due to injuries to Portland center backs Pa Modou Kah and Norberto Paparatto, Portland started the same back four as they did on Wednesday. The Timbers did, however, field three different players in the front half of the field.
“It was going to be difficult, but I think we shouldn’t take anything away from this Seattle team,” Ricketts told the media following a stellar eight-save performance.
The loss was not only a blow in the heated Cascadia rivalry, and another three points for Supporters’ Shield leading Seattle, but also another missed chance for the Timbers to start moving up the Western Conference table. They have now lost two of three and are winless in their last four, leaving them in eighth place with 21 points from 19 games.
They’ll face another crucial conference matchup Friday when the Colorado Rapids, who sit in third place with 27 points, come to the Rose City.
“There are more important games ahead,” Porter said. “The swing playoff teams, those are the six-point swings against teams that are in and around us that are the more important games. Although it would have been nice to get a point or more.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.