It all started so promisingly for the Portland Timbers Sunday night at Jeld-Wen Field, and then, like the Timbers' central midfield, they just slowly faded away. Instead of crashing the party up north, Portland was part of the show. And really, what else could you expect?
This MLS showpiece was always going to be a tough ask for Caleb Porters' side. After all, the Timbers had enough players sidelined through injury or suspension to make up a very respectable team, and it seemed that most of those players were central midfielders. It was impossible to predict what lineup and formation Porter was going to use, such was the uncertainty surrounding who was going to play.
In the end, Jack Jewsbury made it, while Ben Zemanski made the bench, and Will Johnson missed out completely, along with the crucially suspended Diego Chara. Porter decided to gamble and play for goals - Kalif Alhassan started in a 4-1-4-1 formation, with only Jewsbury, a man who hadn't played a full 90 minutes in almost a month, as the only central midfield player. It was a calculated risk, but one that almost guaranteed goals.
Goals would have been good in this game, because people took notice, as you have to when there is an attendance just short of 70,000 at a sporting event. It was the home debut of Clint Dempsey, arguably the most meaningful and significant signing in MLS history, with a spit-fire rivalry and other-worldly support making this Cascadia clash a banner moment for American soccer. At least in some places and in some moments, we've made it as a soccer country.
It's fair to say the that the Timbers weren't exactly fancied to skip down I-5 with three points, but Portland was going to give it a go, and in the first half, things went surprisingly well.
Diego Valeri pulled the strings, oozing class and confidence on the ball. Early on, he slid through Ryan Johnson free on goal, but the big Jamaican forward was a bundle of nerves and he never really got his feet under him in the game, or on the huge chance, which Johnson ended up dribbling into the arms of the on-rushing Michael Gspurning.
With Valeri playing puppet-master and the Timbers looking adept all over the field, it seemed as if Porter got his selection right, but you always felt that if Portland could pry a goal out of their early dominance, there was going to be trouble. Late on in the half, Valeri hit the post.
For all the hype and chatter, Seattle were insipid in the first half, unable to possess the ball or make any type of incision into the Portland defense. Unfortunately for the Timbers, Sigi Schimd had an all-too-obvious trump card on the bench.
With Shalrie Joseph languishing, Mauro Rosales entered the game in the 55th minute and turned the contest on its head.
Early on, Rosales was hacked down by the comically over-zealous, out-of-position, fire-breathing Pa Moudu Kah, who was simply begging to be sent off. Besides a string of reckless sliding challenges and a knee to the head of Eddie Johnson, Kah could only have showed he wanted an early dismissal more if he spit in Jair Murrufo's face - although that may not have even convinced Murrufo to reach for his pocket.
I'm not sure if the moment got to the emotional Kah, or if this is just the norm, but someone needs to forcefully tell the Gambian defender that playing like a WWE wrestler isn't an effective method of defending. Kah was constantly out of position, diving in on players and leaving the Timbers defense behind him scrambling. He was a disaster waiting to happen, and in the end, he was culpable for the only goal of the game.
That goal came off the free-kick conceded by Kah, a horrible high challenge that was unsightly enough to get Zen Master referee Murrufo to brandish a yellow card. Rosales swung the free-kick in, and the Timbers achilles heel, set-pieces, reared its ugly head.
Eddie Johnson was free and unmarked in the box as he swept the ball into the back of the net, giving Seattle the lead on 60 minutes. It was all Seattle ended up needing.
As the game went on, it became more stretched. The introduction of Morales ripped apart the Jewsbury-anchored Timbers midfield, and as Jack had to slide back to fill the gaps left by Kah and occasionally Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Seattle had miles of space to run at the Portland defense and counter-attacked.
With Murrufo refereeing the game as a normal person would a checkers match, it was always likely there was going to be misbehavior in the highly-charged derby.
Kah, in a moment of supreme idiocy, kneed a fouled Eddie Johnson in the head while Johnson was on the ground - something Kah certainly would have been sent off for had the referee or one of his assistants seen it. Ozzie Alonso was also taking his role of enforcer very seriously, and although he cynically hauled down a vivacious Darlington Nagbe again and again, he was neither booked for a bad tackle, or persistent infringement. It was poor refereeing.
In the end, it was Jewsbury who felt the brunt force of the game. He had to be stretchered off in the 80th minute, and the Timbers midfield was officially erased. If Jewsbury is out for an extended period, the Timbers are robbed of a versatile squad player as the team's injury crisis deepens.
Both teams had chances - Ricketts made a spectacular save off a Johnson header, who Gspurning, in tip-top form, acrobatically denied a late rocket from Nagbe. Portland's attack was solid, and they took the game to Seattle in the first half. Still, to not get a goal with the team Porter put out is disappointing.
In the end, it was Seattle's not. Portland has now gone three years without a win at CenturyLink Field, and the second-largest standalone crowd in MLS history went home happy.
It was frustrating for the Timbers, but not a terrible performance under the circumstances. Still, looking forward, the Timbers have problems. Kah is suspended for Friday's huge game with Real Salt Lake, which ordinarily wouldn't be a bad thing, but Portland has no cover in the position.
This team desperately misses Mikael Silvestre and Futty Danso, but it doesn't look like either player will be back any time soon. This game also could have used Frederic Piquonne's class, but he's still out as well.
Portland drops to fourth in the West, and with another quick turnaround for the game at red-hot Real Salt Lake Friday, the end of the season could quickly turn into a month-long scoreboard watching nightmare.
The Timbers had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to spoil Seattle's party Sunday night. They came up short. The blame lies more with some than others, but if Portland are a real team, as they preached in the build-up to this game, they will overcome and rebound. They don't have any other choice.