Timbers score late, beat Sounders
Patience and persistence were rewarded on Sunday for the Portland Timbers.
Sebastian Blanco's calm chip in the 86th minute was the difference as the Timbers turned in a meaningful 1-0 win over the Seattle Sounders on a difficult afternoon at Providence Park.
Samuel Armenteros sent a quick, direct ball forward, and Blanco beat goalkeeper Stefan Frei with a delicate chip shot.
The Argentine winger then donned a Chucky doll mask in celebration as the crowd of 21,144 not in the Seattle rooting section roared approval.
"It's my nickname in Argentina," the 5-7 Blanco said, explaining the mask. "When I started to play for Lanús, they gave me this name because I'm small. My wife wanted me to use it in some game, and I think today was an amazing moment."
The win — in the 100th renewal of a rivalry that began on May 2, 1975 on this same ground — was the fourth in a row for Portland, and the third consecutive shutout.
After going winless in its first five games of this MLS season, Portland is 4-3-2 (14 points) and up to fourth place in the Western Conference.
Seattle, which has been hit hard by injuries and was without a number of key players on Sunday, is at the bottom of the conference (2-5-2, 8).
Portland coach Giovanni Savarese expressed pride that his club persevered against Seattle's disciplined, determined defending.
"These kind of games are battles," he said. "I'm very proud of how the guys continued to battle, how the guys continued to be disciplined, how they worked hard throughout the entire match and how they found a way at the end to be able to get the result that we wanted.
"But it took a lot of discipline, and it was great."
The heat on the artificial turf meant there were hydration breaks in each half, and made it more challenging to control passes and to move the ball quickly.
With Seattle defending with nine players, the Timbers struggled to find space to create.
"They did a good job closing off the middle. We tried both sides and using the flanks," Portland midfielder Diego Valeri said. "The two clear chances we had in the second half were through the middle … but it was hard because they were defending with a lot of people."
In addition to the Sounders' strong defensive work, conditions on the artificial surface proved challenging.
"It was too dry, and (the ball) was slowing down all the time and stuck in your feet," Valeri said. "Your feet burn, and it's impossible to play like normal."
The breakthrough came when Armenteros, who came on in the 78th minute for Fanendo Adi, won a battle for the ball with Seattle's Cristian Roldan and turned to send a quick forward ball along the turf. The pass found its way between defenders to Blanco on the run, and he made a quality finish for his fifth goal of the season.
"It's amazing, because I think I didn't play a good game, to be honest,"Blanco said. "But we tried all the time to penetrate. We scored the goal in the last five minutes, and it's amazing for us."
Before the goal, Portland's best chance came when Valeri broke free into the penalty area off a quick give-and-go with Adi. Sounders defender Gustav Svensson came off his man to make a desperate play to block Valeri's attempt.
"I didn't see him," Valeri said. "I was looking to the keeper … it was a great job by Svensson."
Shortly before the goal, Valeri delivered a dangerous free kick that Timbers defender Larrys Mabiala headed just wide of the post.
For most of the afternoon, Seattle's three center backs and two compact lines had Portland scuffling to string together passes of any real quality.
The Sounders came to Portland without a half-dozen key players, including defender Roman Torres, midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro and forward Will Bruin. Forward Jordan Morris is out for the season.
Seattle's plan took a hit in the second half with injuries to Kim Kee-hee and left wing back Nouhou Tolo. Kee-hee was especially effective alongside Chad Marshall in shutting down Portland's efforts to attack through the center of the field.
Kim was bloodied after clashing heads with Adi midway through the second half.
Seattle threw players forward after Blanco's goal and created a few scrambled moments inside the penalty area. Portland did enough over what added up to 10 minutes of added time to get its fourth consecutive win — tying a MLS-era club record.
The third shutout in a row is a Timbers MLS-era record.
"Defensively, we're very organized," goalkeeper Jeff Attinella said after making one save, on a second-half shot by Tolo. "The guys in front of me have been doing a great job battling to win those balls. It's just about seeing these games out."
Next comes another home match, a noon Saturday kickoff against expansion club Los Angeles FC. LAFC (6-2-2, 20) is second in the Western Conference after a 2-2 Sunday home draw with New York City FC.