It was a rough week for Portland Timbers fans. First, on Wednesday, the team lost to Minnesota on the road. Yes, THAT Minnesota. Then on Sunday they faced their arch-rivals, the Seattle Sounders, and fell victim to last minute heroics by USMNT stalwart, Clint Dempsey.
After Portland lost 3-2 to Minnesota on Wednesday, they had to turn their attention to the Sounders. And they had to make several key adjustments that I’m sure they were not planning on along the way. Against Minnesota, Sebastián Blanco was shown a red card and suspended for the match against Seattle. In the same game, defender Roy Miller also earned a suspension, his the result of yellow card accumulation. Defender Liam Ridgewell is still out due to injury, so to say that this was not the ideal situation heading into a rivalry weekend would be an understatement.
Portland’s defense, plagued by injury all season, had given up the fifth most goals in MLS heading into Sunday’s match. And their point man on the attack, Fanando Adi, had easily one of his worst performances mid-week in Minnesota. The 6’4″, 185 lbs striker was bullied to the point of ineffectiveness, an odd sight to see, especially since Adi is one of the more dominant attackers in the league, and he was playing against a team that is still on pace to potentially give up more goals in a single season than any other team in league history.
Things got off to a bad start for the home side when Seattle defender Jovein Jones scored in the 27th minute. Jones, who plays as a winger for his home country of Trinidad & Tobago, normally punishes teams with his crosses from the left side, but this time he found himself at the top of the box with room to shoot. Goalkeeper Jake Gleeson defended the shot but Jones hustled after the deflection and would not be denied on his follow-up effort, a one touch shot to the far post.
Portland spent most of the first half on their heels, with Seattle continuing to create chances and looking the more dangerous of the two sides. But that all changed in the 44th minute, when Seattle defender and captain, Brad Evans, took down Darlington Nagbe in the box from behind. A series of defensive miscues by Seattle led to the ball falling at Nagbe’s feet in about eight yards in front of the Sounders’ goal. Before Nagbe could set himself to shoot, Evans hacked him in a desperate attempt to keep him from taking the point blank shot.
Not only were the Timbers awarded a penalty kick, but because the officials deemed Evans’ actions as a denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity (also known as DOGSO), Evans was shown a straight red card and Seattle would have to finish the game with only ten men. Diego Valeri normally takes Portland’s penalty kicks, but this time he gave the shot to Adi, who confidently converted it, earning his 50th goal in a Timbers uniform.
With the red card to Evans, Seattle didn’t only lose a player, they also lost their captain and the vocal leader of their back line. This was very apparent minutes later, in the waning moments of the first half, when Dairon Asprilla headed home a David Guzmán corner kick in stoppage time to put the Timbers up 2-1 heading into the half. Asprilla was completely unmarked when he scored, a very bad sign for Seattle. Having to finish the game with only ten men on the field, on the road, against a talented team and a hostile crowd, it looked like it was going to be a long second half for the visitors. But somehow they held on. Saying they held on really doesn’t fit. They actually played well. In fact, it didn’t seem like Seattle was down a man at all.
I’m not a huge soccer stats guy, but when playing at home against a side with one less player on the field, the possession stat should have been tipped heavily in favor of the Timbers, and it wasn’t. It was almost strange to watch as the Timbers were unable to take advantage of over 45 minutes playing a man up. They held the lead all the way into stoppage time, when Clint Dempsey (who had come on as a substitute in the 56th minute) headed home a Román Torres cross in stoppage time to even the score.
It was a draw that felt like a loss for the Timbers, and a draw that felt like a win for Seattle. That said, the Timbers (despite the lousy results of the past week) still currently sit in third place in the Western Conference. It will be interesting to see if they can hang on to that spot long enough for their back line to get back to full strength. They have a secret weapon now, though, so the goal for Portland isn’t to get back to where they were, but to get even better as the second half of the season develops.