Another tough draw for Timbers
The Portland Timbers did many good things on Thursday at Seattle.
They grabbed an early goal from an unlikely source. They did not allow the Sounders a shot on target for more than 90 minutes.
But, for the second consecutive game, the story is what Portland couldn't do: defend a lead in stoppage time.
Seattle's Will Bruin scored three minutes into second-half stoppage time to give the Sounders a meaningful 1-1 draw at empty CenturyLink Field.
Andres Flores, in his first match in more than a year, scored in the 10th minute for Portland.
The result leaves the rivals tied atop the Western Conference of MLS with 32 points. But Seattle (9-4-5) has played one fewer game than Portland (9-5-5). If the Sounders don't make up a postponed match against Colorado — which seems unlikely — Seattle could potentially finish in front of Portland on points per game even if the Timbers end up with more total points.
All of that math will be in the background as the teams play their four remaining matches. But, should Portland come up a point or two short, certainly points dropped on nights like Thursday will be remembered.
"It's unfortunate that we feel disappointed again, because we almost got there to get three points again on a very difficult field against a very difficult team," Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said. "But I'm extremely proud because I thought we had a very, very strong performance, especially in the first half."
Seattle's goal came from a corner kick after Portland defender Dario Zuparic slipped while trying to usher the ball out for a goal kick. To that point, the Timbers had dealt well — with one exception (an open header for Shane O'Neill on a corner in the 85th minute) — with Seattle's 33 open-play crosses and seven corner kicks.
But on the decisive play, Bruin drifted off the back of Zuparic and was wide open for a flicked-on header from centerback Yamir Gomez. With three Timbers going for the cross, both Bruin and Nicolas Lodeiro were completely unmarked when Gomez won the battle for the initial cross, giving goalkeeper Steve Clark no chance to deny Bruin his first goal in more than a year.
The Timbers played a strong first half and took the lead with a well-executed buildup and finish.
A string of one-touch passes that started with Diego Chara and Eryk Williamson in midfield, continued with Diego Valeri sending the ball forward to Jorge Villafana high on the left wing. Villafana's ball into the box was collected by Felipe Mora, who dropped a pass for Yimmi Chara to strike.
Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei punched that shot to his left for one of his three saves. Flores was there for the rebound and struck a low, hard shot through the legs of Seattle's Nouhou Tolo and into the goal.
"Personally, I feel very happy for the goal because I've been out for a long time and you have no idea how hard I have been working," Flores said. "I was just being patient, waiting for the opportunity. It came today in a big game and I'm really happy for the goal."
Flores, who has played for Savarese since his days at the New York Cosmos, got the call because Jeremy Ebobisse (concussion, ending a club-record 75 games played in a row) and Marvin Loria (abdomen) were unavailable. Andy Polo remains in quarantine after being away with Peru for World Cup qualifying.
It was the first action for the Flores since Sept. 22, 2019, a match he left after 21 minutes with an injury. The El Salvadoran midfielder missed the MLS is Back Tournament this summer because of the death of his father. The goal was his second in 42 matches over three seasons with the Timbers.
His first point of emphasis Thursday was working with right back Marco Farfan to keep Seattle's Jordan Morris and Lodeiro in check, a challenging assignment for a first game in more than a year for the 30-year-old.
"It was challenging because I've been out for a long time. This year has been crazy, a lot of different things happened in my personal life," Flores said. "It was as I expected very difficult, but it ended up being a very positive comeback for me."
Savarese was thrilled for Flores to score on his return.
"He's gone through so much this year. He's a fighter," Savarese said of Flores. "He keeps on coming back, keeps on fighting, keeps on working. What more can I ask? And today, in a difficult place, he scored a very important goal and we were so happy for him because he's a very important part of our team."
Flores, who has toiled behind the scenes to get back on the field, emphasized that the Timbers need to focus on the many positives despite the disappointing finish.
"We have to keep being positive and working in this way of playing, because if we believe in what we're doing I think we're going to have good results," Flores said.
• Thursday's match was the sixth in 15 days for the Timbers, so perhaps fatigue was a factor late in the draws with LAFC on Sunday and with Seattle on Thursday.
• Portland next plays at home on Wednesday, Oct. 28 against the LA Galaxy, which begins a run of four games over 12 days (three at home) to close the regular season. The remaining games are Nov. 1 against Vancouver, a makeup game against Colorado on Nov. 4 and a Nov. 8 match at Los Angeles FC.
Seattle's remaining games (not including an as yet unscheduled match with Colorado that might not be played): at Vancouver (at Providence Park), at Colorado, at the LA Galaxy and home against San Jose.
• Ebobisse had played in 60 consecutive regular-season matches prior to missing Thursday.
• Flores is the 12th Timbers player to score a regular-season goal this season.
• The Sounders also were missing some key bodies Thursday, including striker Raul Ruidiaz who like Polo was still in quarantine after being with Peru.
• The Sounders had to make an early change when midfielder Jordy Delem took an accidental elbow from referee Ismail Elfath.
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