The Portland Timbers fought back from an early deficit to take a 2-1 lead against their arch-rivals, the Seattle Sounders, in the first leg of the Conference semifinals. Once again, the Timbers managed a stout performance on the defensive end, while letting the attacking triumvirate of Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco and Jeremy Ebobisse take care of business in the attack.
In the early minutes of the match, the Timbers looked to get forward and put the visitors under pressure, but after a few nervy moments, the Sounders were able to break out. Passing the ball out of pressure, the Sounders quickly found Raul Ruidiaz in the Timbers box, but the forward could not connect cleanly with the ball, scuffing his shot toward the back post. Cristian Roldan was lurking in space. He couldn’t get a clean touch on the ball, though, putting it out of bounds and going down as Jeff Attinella slid to keep him from shooting. The Sounders appealed for a penalty, and referee Ted Unkle reviewed the play, but ultimately decided to only award a corner kick.
With the Sounders now set up in their end, the Timbers struggled to get the ball back down the pitch and, in the 10th minute, were punished for their inability to clear. After stopping an attempted Timbers pass down the pitch, Roldan was able to get off a low cross into the box. Bill Tuiloma, starting in place of the suspended Larrys Mabiala, was able to get a boot to the ball, but could not keep it from reaching the run of Ruidiaz, who powered a first time shot past Attinella and into the back of the net.
The Sounders would not hold their lead for long, however, as the Timbers quickly rallied and pulled one back in the 17th. Breaking straight down the center of the pitch, Diego Valeri was able to spot a curving run from Jeremy Ebobisse and play a perfectly weighted through ball into his path. Racing in behind the Sounders back line, Ebobisse got to the ball just ahead of Seattle keeper Stefan Frei and played a chipped shot toward goal that bounced before settling into the back of the net and evening up the score at 1-1.
With the crowd in at Providence Park fully energized, the Timbers were now back on the front foot and, in the 29th minute, they struck again. Once again it was Valeri getting on the ball in the center of the pitch and driving forward. Touching the ball around one defender, then fighting off tackle from both of Seattle’s center backs, Valeri was able to clip the ball to Sebastian Blanco in the Sounders’ box. With one defender still between him and goal, Blanco cut hard to the end line before clipping a rolling shot to the back post. The ball slipped just between the outstretched glove of Frei and the woodwork to put the Timbers up 2-1.
The Timbers’ momentum was tamped down, however, by a series of injuries late in the first half. First Roldan was forced off with a groin injury in the 31st minute, and then Chad Marshal was went down with what looked like a serious knee injury in the 40th. Finally, the Timbers had a scare of their own when David Guzman clashed heads with Gustav Svennson on a corner kick during stoppage time, but after a check from the team doctor he was cleared to continue.
The injuries did not stop the chances from coming, however, and deep in first half stoppage time the Timbers came close to grabbing a third. Under pressure out on the Sounders wing, Valeri hit a hard cross that skimmed along the turf before finding the boot of Andy Polo in the box. Polo was able to touch the ball forward but couldn’t steer it on goal, instead sending it into the advertising holding wide of the near post.
The second half started out much like the first, with a flurry of activity from the Timbers, followed by a long period of pressure from the Sounders.
Nine minutes into the half. the Sounders came close to finding an equalizer of their own. After a long pass back from substitute Lawrence Olum, brought on for Guzman in the 51st minute, Attinella mishit his clearance down the pitch, sending the ball directly to a Sounders player. The visitors looked to seize on their chance and passed the ball out to Victor Rodriguez, making a diagonal run into the box. With a tight angle on goal, Rodriguez went for power over placement, and hammered a hard shot on goal that Attinella was forced to tip up and over the bar.
The chance spoiled, both sides settled into a stare-down in the Timbers half. With Seattle holding the bulk of the possession, the Timbers stayed organized and compact, stymieing any attempt to break them down.
Late in the match. the Timbers once again began to find space for the counter. In the 76th minute, a quick break down the pitch found Valeri in space outside the the Seattle box and, with a moment to measure his shot, the Maestro attempted to pick out the far post. Valeri’s ball was on target, but Frei had its measure, and sprawled out across the face of goal to touch the ball wide.
Three minutes later, it looked like the Timbers had found the back of the net when Jorge Villafana was played in behind the Seattle back line on an overlapping run. Villafana’s shot was palmed away by Frei, but Lucas Melano was there to put home the rebound. As Melano was celebrating, however, the assistant’s flag was raised and replays showed that Villafana’s initial run was offside.
In the 90th minute, the Timbers came close again when a quick move forward found Blanco in space out on the right flank. Sending in a curling ball, Blanco found Valeri making a run into the box at the near post. Valeri stuck out a leg and made good contact with the ball, but could not put it on frame.
Moments later, the Sounders were able to put together a quick break of their own. Pinging a series of short passes through the center of the pitch, the Sounders found Rodriguez at the top of the box where the diminutive attacker hit a curling shot on goal that Attinella snagged out of the air with ease to close out the match.
The Timbers will play the second leg of the Conference semifinals on the road at CenturyLink Park on Thursday.