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One down, and Timbers are one up

Portland leads Seattle 2-1 going into Thursday home match


by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: NICK FOCHTMAN - Ryan Johnson got the call to start at forward in the Portland Timbers' playoff opener, and he got the team's first goal at Seattle on Saturday night.MLS PLAYOFFS

Portland Timbers 2, SEATTLE SOUNDERS 1

(Saturday night, CenturyLink Field, 38,507 announced attendance)

HIGHLIGHTS

Portland took the lead in the Northwest rivals' two-game, aggregate goal series.

Ryan Johnson got to the near post unmarked and headed in Jack Jewsbury's cross in the 15th minute for a 1-0 Portland lead.

Darlington Nagbe made the score 2-0 in the 67th minute on a solid shot from just inside the penalty box.

Seattle, which dominated most of the action, helped its cause with a 90th-minute goal by Osvaldo Alonso, moments after a long throw-in.

WHAT IT MEANS

Portland needs only a draw at home Thursday night to win the MLS Western Conference semifinal and move into the conference final against either Real Salt Lake or the Los Angeles Galaxy.

The second Portland-Seattle match is 8 p.m. Thursday at Jeld-Wen Field (NBC Sports).

TOP PERFORMERS

• Johnson and Nagbe got their first career MLS postseason goals.

• Donovan Ricketts made four saves for Portland on a night when the Sounders challenged the Timbers defense with 11 corner kicks (eight in the first half) and numerous set pieces. It was his fifth MLS playoff victory.

KEY STATS

• Seattle led 20-10 in shots, but failed to convert until the late stages.

• Portland scored the opening goal for the sixth time in its past seven games.

ANALYSIS

The Timbers normally like to focus on possession, but coach Caleb Porter said their strategy in game one of the series was to sit back and counterattack. Seattle coach Sigi Schmid noted that the better-rested Timbers (Seattle was playing its third game in seven days) probably did that just to use their "fresh legs" to better advantage.

The result was a Sounders attack that frequently threatened, or threatened to threaten. Porter happily said "they didn't have very many clear looks, outside of balls dumped in, long throw-ins and set pieces." In other words, the Sounders had a lot of looks, including in the frantic final 15 minutes, when Seattle fired six of its 11 second-half shots.

But Porter's point is well-taken: In and around the box, the Timbers defense was well-organized and didn't give up anything easy to Seattle.

QUOTES

Porter: "We got the win, deserved the win, took our chances well, defended well. They had a little bit more of the ball, but that was a part of the game plan we had. We wanted them to have a bit of the ball so we could roast them on counter-attacks, and I thought we were very dangerous on the counter all day long, and I thought we were organized."

Schmid: "From the run of play, we did enough to deserve a result. Obviously our finish wasn’t as sharp as Portland’s -- they finished far less opportunities than we had."

Johnson, on his goal: "The majority of the balls make it to that near-post area. It was a good weighted ball (from Jewsbury), and I did good enough to redirect it and it was a good finish. (Making that run) was just instinct. The odds of the ball making it to that far-post run are a lot harder, so the near-post run is a good one. As a center forward, you want to first make that near-post run, but you have to time it right. I hesitated and hesitated and then made my run and it worked out well. Those are things you practice all the time, and it worked out.”

Jewsbury: "Me and (fellow Timbers defender) Mikey (Harrington) pick and choose our time to go forward. We’re not overzealous about it. If it’s not on, we don’t go for it. (The Soudners) were obviously really concerned with Darlington in front of me. With him doing that, it opened up some space for me to get down the line a few times tonight. We’ve been working on our crossing. Ryan made a great run, and I was able to find him.”

NEXT

Game two -- 8 p.m. Thursday, Jeld-Wen Field (NBC Sports).

Portland carries its 2-1 lead into the match. If the teams are tied after regulation, they will play a 30-minute overtime and then, if necessary, go to a penalty-kick shootout tiebreaker.

Seattle's late goal gives it some hope and life, but Portland has been powerful at home and has the better record and form over the past few weeks.

"That goal gave us the confidence to go down there and play our game," Seattle's Alonso said.

"But we can play better," Porter said, "and I know we will play even better at home."