Portland Timbers' defensive effort at rival Seattle Sounders goes to waste as attack falls flat

SEATTLE – The Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders were, by all accounts, playing an evenly contested game of soccer Sunday night at CenturyLink Field.

Neither team seemed to have the upper hand for a consistent stretch of the action. But one awkward spin of the ball on a brilliant save from Timbers goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey was all it took for Clint Dempsey and the Sounders to claim a 1-0 win and continue their recent dominance over their Cascadia rivals from the south – such as it’s gone for the Timbers in an inconsistent start to the 2015 season.

Dempsey tapped in the rebound that spun from Kwarasey’s clutches after he made a diving save on a wide-open look from Andy Rose in the 77th minute. It was Dempsey’s sixth goal in the series since coming to Seattle midway through the 2013 season and fourth in the last four games, which stretched Seattle’s winning streak over Portland to four games in all competitions.

“I think we played a good game,” Kwarasey said after the match. “It’s hard when you lose 1-0 and they get a goal like that. It’s been kind of the rhythm, or the melody, of the season so far. We play well and can’t kind of score that opening goal and win the games, instead we end up either with a draw or we lose. We just need to keep working, and hopefully the work will pay off.”

One could even say that Portland had the better of the chances – especially in the second half.

Diego Chara and Maximiliano Urruti each had good looks turned away by Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei early in the second. Darlington Nagbe hit a screamer from outside the box in the 69th minute that sailed just wide.

And second-half substitute Fanendo Adi – Portland’s first-choice striker who started on the bench, a decision head coach Caleb Porter later declined to elaborate on – missed on two headers in front of goal after coming on for Urruti in the 74th minute.

With just seven goals in eight games, it’s a trend the typically high-scoring Timbers aren’t very familiar with their position.

“I wish that we knew, so there was something we could work on,” Nagbe said when asked what has led to struggles in front of the goal. “… I thought in this game maybe we were just a little bit unlucky.”

As a whole, Kwarasey admitted he expected to be under much more pressure from Seattle’s star-studded attacking corps led by Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. Portland’s own high-profile center-back tandem of Liam Ridgewell and Nat Borchers led a defensive effort that limited Seattle to just 10 shots, with three on target.

“I think Liam and Nat had good control of them; they didn’t really do much,” Kwarasey said. “They’re maybe the two best strikers in the league, and I expected them to create more, but I think Liam and Nat and the rest of the defense, [defensive midfielders] Jack [Jewsbury] and Chara, did a great job not allowing them to create clear chances, which we’ve seen so far this season that they are capable of doing.”

It’s also the second-straight time this season Portland (2-3-3) have failed to capitalize on the momentum from a victory, following their 1-0 win over New York City FC last weekend. They now face a home matchup against their other Cascadia rival, Vancouver Whitecaps, the early Supporters’ Shield leaders, on Saturday.

“It was an even game,” Porter said. “We played level with that team for 90 minutes, and I was pleased with that side of it. Obviously disappointed it didn’t fall for us but pleased with the performance today. We had four clear chances in the second half. Ours didn’t fall, and Dempsey finds a goal, so that’s the difference.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.