The Timbers-Sounders rivalry, which kicked off on May 2, 1975, represents an aspect of American soccer culture that is unmatched in the US. 42 years of history. 42 years of American soccer. This past weekend Portland made the trek north, for a road match that had much more than just three points on the line.
The Portland Timbers have two wins on the road this year. Unfortunately, one of those did not occur in the unfriendly confines of Century Link Field in Seattle. Away losses were the Achilles’ heel of last year’s Timbers. And with midfielder Diego Chara out due to a red card suspension, they were not playing at full strength. But still, they came out strong and confident from the opening kickoff. They looked great until Nicolás Lodeiro’s shot off a quick throw in. You probably remember that shot. The shot that led to Jake Gleeson’s “Save of the Week”-caliber diving effort.
Less than three minutes into the match, while Seattle was preparing to take their first corner of the game (which resulted in the Sounders goal), Fox Sports announcer John Strong said of Gleeson: “He’s been forced into more saves per 90 minutes than any goalkeeper since the beginning of last year.” Things that make you go hmmm.
And then came the goal.
After the goal, the game became a bit more balanced. Although for the most part, Portland did seem to keep possession and control the overall pace of the game throughout the first half. But the Timbers didn’t seem dangerous for most of that time. In fact, I believe it wasn’t until the 25th minute before fans heard the name Diego Valeri on the national television broadcast. Again, I have to point to the absence of Chara. Without Chara on the field, the Sounders knew they were much less likely to get punished for focusing on limiting the chances of Valeri.
Portland’s keeper handles more stress than any other keeper in the league? That’s a pretty disturbing idea. Also disturbing is that the Timbers have not scored a goal off of a corner kick this season. They are one of only five teams that can say that. That’s a miserable stat.
So I guess it’s no surprise that the best missed chance of the game came off a corner. It happened in the 44th minute. How do I describe it? Hard to watch. In what was nearly a mirror image of Seattle’s early goal, defender Liam Ridgewell found himself alone in front of an empty net with the ball just barely out of reach.
The second best chance for the Timbers came in the 12th minute, when Darlington Nagbe picked off an errant square ball from Seattle’s Cristian Roldan and ran 60 yards with it, drawing the attention of the Sounders defense as Fanendo Adi made his run to Nagbe’s left. Entering the box, Nagbe’s final ball needed to be better. It was a second too late and Adi’s advantage was lost. There was one other solid chance for the Timbers, a cross into the box that Adi was unable to connect with.
Sebastian Blanco was one of the few bright spots in the match against the Sounders. I think they let him go. I think their plan was to make Blanco beat them, not Valeri, not Adi, not Nagbe. Not up the middle. Blanco played well, giving much needed width to the Timbers attack, but he did not have the deadly impact the Timbers needed in the final third. You may remember I had high hopes for Blanco as a goal scorer. I wasn’t the only one.
This past week, Matthew Doyle, MLS’ Armchair Analyst, said of Blanco:
“This has been a good year for newcomers, but one who has not lived up to the billing is Timbers attacker Sebastian Blanco, who has just a single goal and a pair of assists in his first 1,000 MLS minutes. He’s looked much more of a pass-before-the-pass guy, and a useful shuttler of the ball, but not at all the type who can unlock a packed in defense.
This is pretty shocking to me, since Blanco was awesome for San Lorenzo and is, on paper, a perfect fit with the other Portland attackers.”
Looks like the Timbers have a few things to sort out as summer approaches.