Super-heated turf, Chucky mask mark Timbers' win over Seattle
In many ways, Sunday's 100th edition of the Timbers-Sounders soccer rivalry was much different than the first.
The weather was cold and rainy in Portland on May 2, 1975. Attendance at Civic Stadium was 6,900, and most of us were there out of curiosity. There were no coordinated chants. The play on the field wasn't very coordinated, either. The players, most of them recent arrivals from England, were in their first game together and for the first time were on some pretty awful artificial turf.
Also different: Seattle won, 1-0.
The weather was toasty Sunday afternoon at Providence Park. As on that drippy night 43 years earlier, conditions had an impact on the product. In this case, the heat radiating from the imitation grass turned soccer into a hot-footed battle in which poor touches far outnumbered moments of quality.
"Impossible to play" is the way the Timbers' Sebastian Blanco put it, noting the ball moves slower on the super-heated turf.
"It was too dry, and (the ball) was slowing down all the time and stuck in your feet," Portland midfielder Diego Valeri said. "Your feet burn, and it's impossible to play like normal."
There were hydration breaks in each half, and the players spent as much of that time drenching their shoes as they did quenching their thirst.
Last week, Timbers CEO Merritt Paulson lamented that Portland rarely gets to play a night game at home against its fiercest rival.
Portland and Seattle have played some donnybrooks at the stadium since 2011, when the Timbers joined their rivals in MLS. And rivalry games often are showcases for tenacity rather than technical prowess.
The atmosphere and the chanting (even when not appropriate for TV) create a compelling energy — and can feed into the physical battles that often mark such rivalries.
And who can argue with Blanco pulling out that Chucky mask after his winning goal in Sunday's 86th minute? Got to believe the fictional character from the Child's Play slasher films will find its way onto a tifo. Blanco planned the stunt at the encouragement of his wife, explaining that he long ago was given the nickname Chucky thanks to his short (he's listed at 5-7) stature.
But games like Sunday's — televised on ESPN — do not show MLS at its best.
The Timbers' game on June 30 in Seattle is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Thankfully, the Aug. 26 match in Portland is slated to kick off at 6:30 p.m.
The Timbers' next two home matches also are afternoon affairs — including Saturday's noon game against Los Angeles FC.
As nice as it is for those of us watching from the shade, here's hoping for more moderate conditions.
As for how hot these Timbers are? It's hard to dismiss four consecutive wins and three consecutive shutouts, but the two most recent 1-0 victories came on very late goals against teams that are at the bottom of the standings. The Seattle team Portland edged on Sunday was missing some of its most creative and tenacious players due to injuries.
But winning ugly is always better than losing beautifully, and is an indication new coach Giovanni Savarese has fostered the commitment and competitiveness that can serve the club well beyond emotion-charged rivalry games.
"When someone makes a mistake, someone is right behind helping, and I think that's fantastic," Savarese said about posting three consecutive shutout wins — a first for the MLS-era Timbers. "I have to give a lot of credit, not only to the defenders, but as well as the offensive players that are working very hard defensively to make things more difficult for teams."
The visit from LAFC figures to present a true challenge. Like the match against New York City FC a few weeks back, this is a chance to play an in-form team. The expansion side is second in the West, averages more than two goals per game and has won four of its first six road games.
The most positive trend for the Timbers (other than their two highest-paid players producing goals)? Finding ways to win late instead of dropping points.
• Timbers 2 waited as late as possible to topple Sounders 2 in a Saturday United Soccer League match. Eryk Williamson scored his first professional goal — a close-range volley of a Victor Arboleda cross — with the final kick as Portland beat Seattle at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Washington.
After finishing at the bottom of the USL a season ago, the Timbers' second team is 5-3-2 and tied for fourth in the Western Conference. T2 plays an 11 a.m. Friday match at Providence Park against L.A. Galaxy II.
The Portland team dropping points, unexpectedly, is the Thorns. The National Women's Soccer League Thorns have lost consecutive home games for the first time since 2014 and have gone five outings without a win.
Eight games into their season, the Thorns have only two wins. They have shown glimpses of potential but have struggled for goals from anyone not named Christine Sinclair, who leads the league in both goals (five) and assists (three).
Sinclair said there is frustration but no panic, because the Thorns are playing good soccer.
"I think it would be a lot different if we were playing poorly and still not getting results," Sinclair said. "Sooner or later things are going to change for us. Some of those goals will count, and some of our 24 shots will go in. So we just need to keep plugging away."
Part of the challenge is building chemistry, including with talented Brazilian Andressinha, who played her third game and her first full match for Portland in Saturday's 2-1 loss to the Orlando Pride.
"She's another world-class player," Sinclair said. "She's so good and confident on the ball and brings that Brazilian flair to our team. We're still trying to figure out our balance in midfield. I think the three of us all are sort of the same type of players, so we're still working some kinks out."
The best news out of Saturday's match was the return of defender Emily Menges. Menges has been a consistent presence in the Portland lineup since 2014, but she suffered a stress fracture in a preseason game. Menges played the first half and said she felt like she could go longer but that coming off at halftime was the better decision.
Meghan Klingenberg, who missed the Orlando game for personal reasons, is expected back for Saturday's visit to Washington.
Ellie Carpenter, at 18 the youngest player to play in the NWSL, made her first start for the Thorns against Orlando. A defender for the Australian national team, she played on the right wing.
"Great start," Parsons said, noting Carpenter has had only a few training sessions with the Thorns. "This isn't someone who's going to play 90 minutes every week. This is someone we're investing in over the long term. There's going to be games that suit her and games that don't."