SEATTLE—After 210 minutes—two full matches and an added 30 minutes of extra time—the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders remained tied on aggregate goals in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals, pushing Thursday's second-leg contest at CenturyLink Field into penalty kicks.
Assorted Timbers players celebrated as though they had won the series at the end of extra time, with the series tied 4-4, on the presumed assumption they thought their goal in extra time gave them the edge courtesy of the away goals tiebreaker.
But away goals do not count in extra time of a playoff series in MLS. The FS1 broadcast showed players throwing their arms up in frustration as teammates appeared to explain the distinction, with the game headed to penalties.
Was that the story? If it was, Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese and his players wouldn't cop to it.
“No, I think we were excited,” the Timbers coach said moments after the Timbers lost 3-2 but advanced to the Western Conference Championship on a 4-2 penalty kick shootout win. “We got through it. I thought we felt good going into penalties.”
“We celebrated because we had a good effort,” said midfielder Sebastian Blanco, who dropped to his knees with his arms aloft at the final whistle, before the shootout. “We didn’t play good but we played with heart. We celebrated because we knew [if it went to penalties] we could win.”
The game was cagey, often threatening to let tempers boil over, through the first hour of play, before both teams woke up after Raul Ruidiaz notched his first goal of the night in the 68th minute. Blanco tied up the game 10 minutes later, and Portland were on their way to advancing in 90 minutes, before Ruidiaz added a second goal in second-half stoppage time to take the game to extra time.
“We found goals and both teams went all the way to the end,” Savarese said.
Savarese paid tribute to an epic playoff series against their biggest rival.
“Portland and Seattle brought the rivalry to the match and it was incredible. The guys fought the entire match against a very good team,” Savarese began. “What I told them was to just enjoy it...Go [to the penalty spot]. Have fun. But take responsibility.”
Portland will have 17 days to recover until they face the winner of the other Western Conference Semifinals series, between Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake, which concludes on Sunday (3 pm ET | ESPN, TSN2, TVAS). On one hand, Portland had played four matches over twelve days, three of those in the MLS Cup Playoffs. But after knocking off two higher seeds en route to the Conference Championship, a long layoff could eat into the Timbers' momentum, said goalkeeper Jeff Attinella.
“I think it’s a little mixed,” Attinella said. “The last 12 days have pretty wild for us, it’s been a really tough stretch of games. But whoever we play, they’ve got to deal with it too.”