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Portland Timbers prevail; beat Seattle Sounders in penalties to advance

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Bennett Dewan

After a tense match that broke wide open in its final minutes, the Portland Timbers went through on penalties after tying the Seattle Sounders 4-4 on aggregate after Extra Time. Substitute Dairon Asprilla notched an assist, a goal, and the game-winning penalty as the Timbers fought their way through to the Western Conference Finals.

The Sounders started the match off with a dangerous chance, earning a corner kick in just the third minute of the match. Nico Lodeiro served the ball into the box where it was knocked down and bounced toward Seattle center back Kim Kee-Hee. As it dropped to him, Kim took the measure of the ball and hit a hard volley on goal, but had it blocked away by the body of a defender and cleared.

Once the early nerves settled, the Timbers set out to grind the match to a halt, playing conservatively and giving the Sounders no room in which to operate in the final third.

The Timbers saw their first chance of the match come in the 21st minute when Jeremy Ebobisse tracked down an errant pass deep in the Sounders end. Stepping around a defender out on the flank, Ebobisse dropped a pass into the path of Andy Polo making a diagonal run into the box. Polo took a touch and hit a low, hard shot toward the near post but the ball streaked wide for a goal kick.

With openings occasionally presenting themselves, the Timbers ventured forward more regularly as the half progressed, but, still carrying a 2-1 aggregate lead, were unwilling to commit men forward and expose themselves at the back.

The second half saw the match tighten up once again and the Sounders push forward to put the Timbers under pressure.

In the 54th minute, the Sounders came close after a long ball to the back post found the head of defender Roman Torres, still forward from a free kick. Torres headed the ball in behind the Timbers back line, finding the run of striker Raul Ruidiaz for a sliding finish. Ruidiaz made contact, but could not steer the ball on goal, sending it spinning out past the far post instead.

The Timbers managed to break out of the Seattle press in the 60th minute and found a chance of their own. Getting swiftly down the pitch, the Timbers got the ball at the foot of Sebastian Blanco wide on their left flank and the Argentine attacker cut a square pass across the top of the box that Ebobisse was able to track down. Facing away from goal, Ebobisse was able to turn and fire off a low shot through traffic, only for Stefan Frei to make the simple save.

The deadlock would not last, however, and in the 68th minute the Sounders were able to get on the board. A long cross into the Timbers box from midfielder Victor Rodriguez looked destined to be picked out of the air by Jeff Attinella, but as the Timbers’ keeper landed, he bobbled the ball, dropping it directly in front of Ruidiaz. With only an empty net in front of him, and Attinella looking back over his shoulder in horror, Ruidiaz put the ball away with a neatly struck side volley, giving the Sounders a 1-0 lead on the night and the 2-2 lead overall due to their away goal scored at Providence Park.

Ten minutes later, the Timbers regained the lead. Getting forward, the Timbers found substitute Dairon Asprilla on the right side of the box. Asprilla brought the ball down and turned away from his defender before flicking the ball back into the path of Sebastian Blanco at the top of the box. Taking a touch toward the sideline, Blanco hit a low shot back across the face of goal that just evaded the dive of Frei before tucking inside the post to bring the Timbers even at 1-1 and restore their lead on aggregate.

Lucas Melano nearly extended the Timbers lead in stoppage time when Diego Valeri slipped a ball forward into the box for his run. With a tight angle to goal, Melano shot for the far post, but Frei was equal to the shot, knocking it down in the box where it was scrambled away by his back line.

As the final minutes of stoppage time ticked down, the Sounders still had a trick left in their bag. A long ball lumped into the Timbers box was headed away by Liam Ridgewell and dropped for Blanco to flick onward. Instead Blanco sent the ball into the center of the box where Ruidiaz was once again lurking. The Sounders forward had space to line up his volley and struck, hitting a laser shot on goal that swerved past the hands of Attinella and splashed into the back of the net. The goal pulled the sides even at 3-3 on aggregate and, with one away goal apiece, sent them to extra time.

With the game now wide open, the action kept coming in extra time.

In just the 93rd minute the Timbers pulled back into the lead. From just outside the Sounders box, Valeri clipped a ball over the back line and found the run of Asprilla at the back post. With the inside track on his defender, Asprilla rose up and hit a headed ball back across the face of goal and into the back of the net to put the Timbers up 4-3 on aggregate.

Once again the lead would not last as, only three minutes later in the 96th minute, the Sounders once again equalized. With Seattle pressing forward the ball fell to Osvaldo Alonso at the top of the Timbers box. The Sounders stalwart hit the ball on the volley, hitting the outstretched arm of Sebastian Blanco and giving referee Jair Marrufo no hesitation as he pointed to the penalty spot. It was Lodeiro who stepped up for the Sounders and the designated player converted with ease, picking out the inside of the post and giving Attinella no chance at the stop.

Although both teams pushed forward for the final goal of the match, neither could get the game winner and the match was destined for penalties.

The spot kicks started strong with Melano, Ruidiaz, and Valeri each burying their shots. Shooting second for the Sounders, however, Will Bruin put his attempt off the post. Then, after Blanco converted, Attinella made the first save of the shootout when he stopped Alonso’s attempt. Frei then returned the favor, stopping Ridgewell, and Handwalla Bwana converted his shot. Finally, Asprilla stepped up to the spot and, with the win on the line, powered a shot through the touch of Frei to put the Timbers through.

The Timbers will now have two weeks to rest before the Western Conference Finals when they will host either Sporting Kansas City of Real Salt Lake on Sunday, November 25th.