Timbers rediscover grit, top Sounders
The Portland Timbers lost their best player to an early injury Sunday, but left Seattle with a 2-1 win thanks to a couple high-quality plays from midfieler Eryk Williamson — and to more fight than they showed in three disappointing recent home results.
Williamson scored his first goal for the Timbers in the ninth minute and delivered the pass that set up Felipe Mora's winner in the 83rd minute as Portland prevailed in a match that, because of COVID-19, was played without fans at CenturyLink Field.
The Timbers responded after Sebastian Blanco crumpled to the turf in the second minute with an apparent right knee injury. Blanco later was seen on crutches.
Portland also lost central defender Larrys Mabiala to a thigh injury. Coach Giovanni Savarese said both would be evaluated in Portland on Monday.
But, after three disappointing results at home to open this phase of the MLS restart, the Timbers rediscovered the grit that carried them to the MLS is Back championship.
So it wasn't surprising that Savarese focused on the competitive fight of his guys in his post-match media session, stating he was most pleased with "the concentration, the fight that the players put in, the quality of the play, how in tune everybody was with each other — in the second half, especially."
The win improves Portland to 4-3-2 in MLS regular-season play. The Timbers sit fourth in the Western Conference with 14 points. Seattle is 4-2-3, second in the standings with 15 points.
With their best player out of the game, and appearing distraught on the sidelines, the Timbers responded.
Specifically, Williamson and Diego Valeri. Williamson dribbled around a pair of Sounders and then pulled off a lovely give-and-go with Valeri and scored on a calm finish to put Portland up 1-0 in the ninth minute. Williamson eluded the first two of six Seattle players who were nearby on the play.
Williamson said it's a combination play the team drills in training and that it felt good for it to come off in such a big match.
"Guys have been joking about, when is my first time to score? Big game against Seattle, scoring my first goal means a lot," Williamson said.
On the winning goal, Williamson had space to drive forward with the ball from midfield and slipped a perfect forward pass to Mora. Mora split Seattle's two centerbacks and to receive the ball behind the defense and clinically finish his chance. It was the third goal in as many matches for the Chilean forward.
Savarese said he wants Williamson to get involved going forward when the opportunity is there.
"That's what we want, that he finds sometimes those spaces going forward. He did a great job today to find them," the coach said.
The 23-year-old Alexandria, Virginia, native is in his third season with Portland, but spent most of the first two playing for T2. That changed at the MLS is Back tournament, where Williamson's growth was evident.
Savarese does not like to single out individual performances during postgame comments, but he said that Williamson's strong play going forward and in defensive situations "definitely gave us balance and he had a very good match."
The Sounders were having the better of things as the first half moved along.
Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clark made two terrific one-on-one saves to deny first Jordan Morris and then Raul Ruidiaz. The second of those came after defender Kelvin Leerdam drilled a shot from the top of the 18-yard box into the goal to tie it in the 42nd minute after the Timbers did not make a clean clearance.
Just before halftime, Mabiala was hobbled by a thigh injury. He was able to stick it out through four minutes of first-half stoppage time and was replaced at halftime by Julio Cascante.
In the 50th minute, Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei came up big twice to deny first Jaroslaw Niezgoda and then Jeremy Ebobisse from close range.
The Timbers didn't score then, but it was a sign Portland was on better footing than it was when halftime arrived.
Savarese pointed to better decision making and ball movement allowing his side to control more of the play during what he called "a spectacular second half."
Particularly important was finding chances to switch play from one side of the field to the other, rather than trying to force the ball upfield quickly.
"The second half, we wanted to make sure that we played the ball simpler, quicker, from one side to the other," Savarese said, applauding the patience his team showed to work the ball into spaces that were more difficult for the Sounders to defend.
"Our possession was very productive in the second half. We found opportunities, we were able to move the ball to create chances."
Mora took his chance for the third match in a row, and for the second time as a late second-half substitute.
At the defensive end, the Timbers stood strong defending their own 18-yard box.
"When we defend all together and we're on the same page, then we're a difficult team to be broken down and we showed that again today," Savarese said.
Portland also came together after losing Blanco, who was the MVP of the MLS is Back tournament. Marvin came on for Blanco and was replaced by Yimmi Chara in the 70th minute.
""It was an important reaction from the guys, because losing such an important player from the beginning of the match is not an easy thing," Savarese said.
The result continued an unlikely trend. It is the third Portland win in a row in a regular-season match at CenturyLink Field. Seattle has won each of its last three visits to Providence Park, including its 3-0 winon Aug. 23.
The Timbers have a week before they visit Los Angeles FC at 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13. Whether Blanco or Mabiala are there remains to be seen, but appears doubtful. And Portland knows it will be without midfield rock Diego Chara for that match. He will be suspended for yellow card accumulation after picking up one for a tactical foul that stopped a potential Seattle counter attack late in the match.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.