[MLS PLAYOFFS: Portland-Seattle]The balance of power in the Northwest has shifted to the south.
Seattle may be the Cascadia Cup king in attendance and resources, but Portland has taken over on the field. By beating the Sounders, 3-2, in the second leg of their Western Conference semifinal to win the series, 5-3, on aggregate, the Timbers brushed aside those rivals in the most convincing manner.
Portland’s main men, Will Johnson and Diego Valeri, scored first-half goals to drop the Sounders deeper into the hole created by a 2-1 decision in the first leg, and Futty Danso’s headed goal shortly after halftime seemingly eradicated any faint notions Seattle could somehow make a game of it.
But the 3-0 advantage proved too much for the Timbers could handle. Sounders right back DeAndre Yedlin chased down a long Brad Evans throw-in that skipped through the goalmouth to smash home a shot at the back post, and two minutes later Yedlin swung over a cross from the right wing that Eddie Johnsondrove into the net with a powerful header.
Seattle came very close to cutting the deficit to 5-4 in the final minute, but Clint Dempseysliced a shot a yard wide and another boisterous, sellout crowd at Jeld-Wen Field cast off its anxiety to resume the celebrations that had commenced early in the second half with the Timbers up, 5-1, on aggregate.
Portland plays the first leg of the Western Conference finals Sunday at Real Salt Lake, which dethroned two-time champion Los Angeles with a 2-0 victory (2-1 on aggregate) in extra time Thursday night.
The dual playoff defeats left Seattle with a 1-7-1 record in its last nine games and heightened speculation that head coach Sigi Schmid, who has led the Sounders into the playoffs in each of the club’s five MLS seasons but never into MLS Cup, could be replaced.
While Will Johnson and Valeri and their Timber teammates started quickly, Seattle faltered. Eddie Johnson and Dempsey ran ground against the tough Timbers defense, and not until the insertion of Obafemi Martins and Mauro Rosales after halftime did the Sounders generate much attacking impetus. But the Sounders couldn’t contain a confident group of Portland attackers and dropped too far behind.
Schmid decided not to start Martins and Rosales, both of whom had been hobbled by injuries in recent weeks. He instead buttressed his midfield by deploying Shalrie Joseph and Adam Moffat alongside Brad Evansand Osvaldo Alonso, but that quartet couldn’t find a foothold and the back line labored through an error-prone evening.
Defender Djimi Traore’s careless handball granted Portland a chance to take the lead in the 29th minute, and Johnson’s confidently taken penalty kick punctuated a typically heroic performance. Valeri got up off the deck after a nasty tackle by Marc Burchto glide through the Sounders defense and punch home a Rodney Wallacefeed to double Portland’s lead just before halftime.
The Sounders, rather than regrouping for the second half, fell further behind less than two minutes after kickoff when they fell asleep on a throw-in. Will Johnson’s throw went up the left wing to Wallace, who hit a curling cross that Danso headed downwards underneath keeper Michael Gspurning’s clumsy lunge.
Timbers coach Caleb Porter took Valeri and Ryan Johnson out of the game, and those changes plus the three-goal lead drained Portland of some energy. Schmid’s offensive substitutions took hold briefly, but after Yedlin’s goal and assist the Timbers regained enough of their rhythm to reach the finish line on top.
Portland’s victory gave higher-seeded teams a 3-1 series record in the conference semifinals. Supporters’ Shield winner New York, which lost to Houston, 4-3, on aggregate, was the only team to falter. The higher-seeded play-in teams, Houston and Seattle, also won their knockout games.
Nov. 7 in Portland, Ore.
Portland 3, Seattle 2. Goals: W.Johnson (pen.) 29, Valeri (Wallace) 44, Danso (Wallace, W.Johnson) 47; Yedlin 74, E.Johnson (Yedlin) 76.
Portland –Ricketts; Jewsbury, Kah, Danso, Harrington, W.Johnson, Wallace, Chara, Valeri (Alhassan, 61), Nagbe (Zemanski, 82), R.Johnson (Urruti, 69).
Seattle –Gspurning; Yedlin, Hurtado, Traore, Burch, Alonso (Rose, 84), Evans, Moffat (Rosales, 58), Joseph (Martins, 49), Dempsey, E. Johnson.
Yellow Cards:Portland -- Kah 26, Chara 53; Seattle -- Burch 40, Dempsey 49.