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Three Thoughts: Party Crashers

On stalwarts, maximization, and lighting some gasoline.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Seattle Sounders FC Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

So last Saturday was pretty fun, yeah?

A huge win over a rival, continued dominance at the football stadium, and a nice spoiling of the unveiling of a piece of plastic and/or cardboard.

All in all: a damn good day for the Portland Timbers.

Here’s three thoughts about how it all went down:

Ride with your guys

We’ll get to the high level rivalry stuff, I promise, but we have to start with the product on the field, which wound up being yet another Timbers win in Seattle. This time it was to the tune of a solid 3-0 win.

Before all of that unfolded though, I was a bit nervous. When the lineups were announced, Giovanni Savarese chose Larrys Mabiala and Dairo Zuparic as his starting centerback pairing. While Zuparic has been fairly steady for most of the year, Mabiala has been a little less so. In Mabiala’s previous two starts, Portland conceded three goals, and the once steadfast defender looked perhaps a bit off the pace.

Well, as has been the odd trend this year, Mabiala must have heard the complaints because he turned in a stalwart defensive performance that afternoon. He helped the backline to Portland’s first clean sheet against Seattle since 2020, and overall looked up to the pace of a high-intensity game.

Portland’s defense overall held Seattle to just three shots on target. The Sounders, especially after going down a man, resorted to lobbing cross after cross into Portland’s box (24 of them in total), and the Timbers defense looked composed in clearing out all of them. The Portland backline racked up 29 total clearances, and Mabiala led the way with nine to his name (all number according to FBref).

It wasn’t a lights-out defensive performance— Seattle still racked up 1.4 expected goals, and maybe should have gotten at least one on the balance of the game. But it was enough, and it was a nice validation for Savarese choosing to ride with his two old stalwarts at the back.

Maximizing moments

One of the things Giovanni Savarese has keyed in on as one of his team’s main shortcomings earlier in the year was Portland’s inability to take advantage of moments, and how his side hasn’t shown enough clinical finishing when handed opportunities to score.

On Saturday, it looked like all of that was happening again. Portland was handed a gift at the start of halftime as Jackson Ragen was shown his second yellow card, but outside of a pair of chances for Sebastian Blanco... they didn’t create whole lot offensively until the dying minutes. There were large stretches of the second half when Portland did not look like they had a man advantage. Part of that is credit to Seattle dropping into a lower block, but a lot of that can be chalked up to Portland’s inability to execute.

And then, it all changed in the 80th minute. Portland was finally able to execute a clean counter-attacking opportunity, and it resulted in Santiago Moreno earning and subsequently dispatching the penalty. Three minutes after that, the Timbers made the most of the Sounders pushing far up the field, when Dairon Asprilla sent them streaming towards the exits.

Even Portland’s opener was a moment maximized. After a period of enduring some sustained pressure the Timbers’ lethally executed one of their few counterattacking opportunities in the first half, courtesy of Jaroslaw Niezgoda’s head (still apologizing, Jaro!).

Saturday wasn’t the prettiest rivalry win, but it was significant as it represented Portland maximizing their moments— something that has eluded them most of the year so far.

Runnin’ round Seattle

Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei gave a quote before the game about how it felt like all of Seattle’s planned celebrations as Concacaf Champions League champions “poured gasoline” all over the rivalry.

Well if that was the case, then on Saturday Portland waltzed into Lumen Field, dropped a lit match, and then jumped and clapped and sung as they watched the blaze.

In the never-ending rivalry between the Timbers and Sounders, Saturday felt like a new escalation between the two sides— one that felt especially sweet to Timbers fans. Portland has won in Seattle many times before, and many have felt pretty good (anyone remember the 2018 Car Show?). But this one will forever live in the echelons of the rivalry due to all that preceded before the actual game even kicked off.

Fireworks. Skydivers. A banner unveiling. Drew Carey giving a pregame speech— while the players were on the field— calling out the Timbers players, Timbers’ organization, and also Timbers fans. Sounders fans in attendance cheered and jeered at their rivals from down I-5.

And then... the Timbers sent them all home sad. A game which was supposed to be a celebration saw the home side held scoreless, a Sounders’ defender get sent off, Portland run up the score, and just overall bad vibes take over the stadium— except of course for the green & gold clad upper deck.

The point to remember here is that the Sounders didn’t have to do all of the above last Saturday. They won the CCL final a full two months earlier. They could have picked literally any other opponent on any other date to raise their banner, talk their talk, and drop their skydivers against.

But no, they wanted to do it against their biggest rivals. They wanted the Timbers to see the fancy trophy and be there for the reveal of the fancy new banner. They specifically chose last Saturday, with Portland in town.

And oh my, were the Timbers aware of the intentions:

The end result was it all blowing up in the Sounders’ face.

It doesn’t change a ton, materially: Seattle still has their banner and intercontinental bragging rights, there is still about half of the MLS season left to play out, and Seattle will have an opportunity at the end of August to return the favor to the Timbers in Portland.

But last Saturday, the Timbers spoiled a party. And Timbers’ fans, to their delight, gained something which will enter the lore of this rivalry, right next to “Welcome to your Nightmare”. You can’t hang a banner to that, but you sure can celebrate it for as long (and as, uh, hard) as you want.