Sounders of Silence
History will note that the Seattle Sounders beat the Portland Timbers 2-1 on Friday night at Providence Park.
That outcome stung for the Timbers, who lost significant ground to their biggest rival and lost the Cascadia Cup, too.
But the score isn't going to last long in the lore of this decades-old rivalry. The shared silence between the Timbers Army and Seattle's traveling fans figures to be remembered much longer.
For the first 33 minutes of the match, there was no chanting from the Timbers Army and no back-and-forth between Portland's supporters and the visiting Seattle fans.
The silence — and a joint photograph opposing fascism between the two rival starting lineups — was organized in protest of an MLS policy that bans any political signs from its stadiums. The fans groups have been pushing MLS to allow the Iron Front image into stadiums. The Iron Front was a group that opposed the Nazis until the Nazis disbanded the group in 1933 — which is why the groups stayed quiet until the 33rd minute.
The MLS Players Association has come out in support of allowing the Iron Front image at games.
Portland coach Giovanni Savarese would not comment on the protest, and the most direct comment from the Timers locker room was a T-shirt worn by defender Zarek Valentin that sported the Iron Front symbol.
"I've been in this club for four years now and I know the ideals of the Army and of the team very well — and they align," Valentin said. "It's tough as a player because at times we get caught in the crossfire. The front office and the (Timbers Army) are aligned in their thoughts. That's the bottom line, and I look forward to a seeing a resolution as quickly as possible for the league."
Several in the Sounders camp were outspoken about the situation.
The supporters groups "need to be complimented on their stance," Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said. "I get it. It's a free country. They can believe what they do, but I know that this (Sounders) club is against racism and against fascism. I know that. I believe that with everything that I do.
"I believe we can erase some of that stuff that's out there in the world. I was proud of the guys to do that little ceremony before."
Added Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei:
"I think the fact we have two supporter groups that hate each other come together on an issue, that says a lot about what the issue is. There's something there that really needs to be discussed I think."
Under a fans code of contact new to MLS fans this season, signs and banners deemed political in nature are not allowed in stadiums.
The Timbers issued a statement during the week explaining that MLS deemed the Iron Front symbol political because it has been "co-opted by antifa groups" involved with violent protests.
The protest led to an oddly quiet Providence Park through the first 33 minutes. Fans reacted to play on the field, but without the rhyhmic chanting from the north end the game felt more like a preseason friendly than the bitterest of rivalries.
Seattle quieted the crowd further with a Cristian Roldan goal in the 22nd minute.
Roldan scored a tap-in goal after Jordan Morris beat Valentin on the dribble and drove the ball across the goal mouth. The ball went through the legs of Portland's Julio Cascante and bounced off of Seattle's Raul Ruidiaz before landing at Roldan's feet three yards in front of the goal.
For the second time in six days, a goal in the opening seconds after halftime doubled the trouble for the Timbers. Morris again found space deep in the left side of the penalty area and sent a simple pass to an unmarked Ruidiaz, who made the score 2-0 Sounders.
Diego Valeri gave Portland life — and with his seventh goal this season became the sixth player in MLS history to have 75 goals and 75 assists — with a free kick in the 54th minute that deflected off of Ruidiaz and gave Frei no chance as it changed direction.
The Timbers kept the Sounders under pressure for much of the remaining time. Brian Fernandez put the ball home in the the 81st minute but was ruled offside.
Among the high-quality opportunities that didn't pan out were a shot from distance by Valeri that saw Frei lunge to his left for the save. On the same play, Cristhian Paredes had an open header that spun wide.
In the opening minute of the second half, Jeremy Ebobisse, a halftime replacement for Marvin Loria, couldn't react when the ball bounced off of him in front of goal. Ebobisse also mis-hit a 12-yard volley in the second half, and late chances for Sebastian Blanco and Andy Polo failed to find the target.
"We put them in trouble. We created chances," Savarese said. "But we had to be calmer in those moments when we're chasing the game to make sure that we believe in ourselves, because we created tons of chances. In some moments, we needed to be a little bit more connected and calmer to be able to finalize those moments that we created."
Savarese said his team lacked the needed urgency in the first half. Valentin, Jorge Villafana and Bill Tuiloma each downplayed the quiet crowd as an explanation for a sluggish first 45 minutes.
The Timbers can feel hard done by first-half officiating decisions, a hand ball in the penalty area committed by Seattle's Jordy Delem that referee Jair Marrufo waved off. It's a foul often called, but wasn't in this case.
In the 76th minute, Portland's already depleted back line was further hurt when Cascante came up lame after a winning the ball from Seattle's Brad Smith.
Chasing the game, Savarese inserted Polo for Cascante. Savarese said Cascante was being evaluated and did not elaborate on the injury, though it was significant enough that Cascante had difficulty standing to leave the field under his own power.
With Larrys Mabiala, whose presence was missed on Friday and in Sunday's loss to Atlanta, still on the injured list, Savarese might be left with Claude Dielna and Bill Tuiloma as his center backs when Real Salt Lake visits on Aug. 31.
The Timbers are 11-11-4 (37 points) and remain in the seventh-place playoff spot pending the rest of the weekend action. They are now six points back of the second-place Sounders who are 12-8-7 (43).
Portland does play seven of its last eight games at Providence Park. But after two losses in a row at home they don't look invincible. And with six of the eight remaining opponents ahead of them in the standings, the Timbers' footing feels much more precarious than it did a week ago.
Savarese, after emphatically stating he would not talk about the protest in the stands because his concern was on the field, gave perhaps his most impassioned post-match reaction of the season.
"Today we lost against a team we didn't want to lose (to). We always want to win against Seattle, especially (with) what was at stake today," Savarese said.
"I believe in this team 100 percent. I'm always proud of these guys, but right now it was a tough two games against Atlanta and Seattle. "These were two games that we could have won if we paid a little bit more attention to the details and we played all together for a common goal."
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