Sunday, Aug. 29: Timbers 2, Sounders 0
The goals: Sebastian Blanco scored a tap-in finish after Felipe Mora's hustle pressured Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland into a mistake and fed the ball to Blanco (1-0 Timbers, 58th minute).
Mora chipped the ball over Cleveland after hustling to force a Seattle giveaway (Timbers 2-0, 90+5).
What it means: Portland is 8-10-3 (27 points) and up to sixth place in the Western Conference. Seattle is 12â€“4-6 (42 points) remains first in the West.
Reaction: The result, to say the least, was much needed. The Timbers approached it like a playoff match, and it paid off. Were they lucky? Sure. Seattle hit the post three times and looked about to score from corner kicks a half-dozen times. But, aside from a couple of well-struck shots from distance that Steve Clark reacted well to stop, Seattle did not create much danger in the run of play.
The joy of answering Seattle's 6-2 win in Portland two weeks ago was tempered by the knee injury suffered in the first half by Eryk Williamson. Coach Giovanni Savarese described it as an ACL injury and said while more evaluation is needed, it is a "sad situation."
The injury came almost a year after Portland's Sebastian Blanco tore his ACL at Lumen field.
The Timbers were the better team in the first half. They reacted the way you would expect from a team with its back to the wall and came out on the front foot. But, except for a Dairon Asprilla rocket off the right post in the early going, Portland struggled to create big chances. That's not unusual. The Sounders are one of the best defensive teams in MLS, and Seattle's three center backs meant the crosses sent in from wide areas were easily dealt with.
Seattle came out on the front foot in the second half. Steve Clark made a big tip save on a Joao Paulo shot with the game scoreless in the 53rd minute. And in the minutes following Blanco's goal, the Sounders were buzzing around the Portland goal. Seattle earned 11 second-half corner kicks, and by serving the near post created at least four or five chances without scoring. … Of the 13 shots Seattle attempted after halftime, three hit the goal frame, three were blocked by a defender and four were saved by Clark.
Portland's first clean sheet in three months took some luck, but it also took sticking together in pressure moments. The Timbers' midfield and defensive lines kept tightly packed much of the night, and Timbers-killer Raul Ruidiaz, the Sounders' striker, was limited to two shots.
"I think we did a lot of very good things to prevent Ruidiaz to find his game," Savarese said. "And then, when they tried to play deeper in behind our lines, we did a great job to come back to cover each other (and) to have a lot of discipline with a fullback staying in their positions and with the help of the wingers. It was just a cohesive performance that prevented many things, especially players like Ruidiaz to get into good spaces."
Portland took only three shots in the second half, but made two of them count thanks to the hustle and the poise of Mora, who put Seattle defenders and goalkeeper under pressure. Mora forced a mistake on the opening goa and got past keeper Cleveland. Instead of rushing a shot from a tight angle, he calmly played the ball for Blanco to put into the open net. On the clincher, he won a battle for possession, then placed a quality chip beyond the reach of Cleveland.
Blanco called Mora "a beast," saying "He's very honest person, player. He worked so hard. He deserved his score. We are so happy and so proud to have him in our team, and I hope he scores many, many more for us."
Santiago Moreno made his Timbers debut, replacing Yimmi Chara in the 74th minute. The Colombian attacker had a couple of opportunities to maybe put the win to bed, but failed to take a shot on one attack and didn't play a pass to Diego Valeri on another. Neither is surprising for a young player who only recently began training in Portland and who will need time to learn teammates and the pace/style of MLS soccer.
As satisfying as the win was, the Timbers have a lot of work ahead to be a team that can make the playoffs and be a factor once they get there. Time will tell if this win can grow confidence in a club that was lacking it until Sunday.
"It's important," Clark said of the victory. "I don't necessarily think it's just the win, but it's how we won. Our process tonight was a winning process. That was a playoff process, a playoff performance type game where everyone's dialed in. We feel good about not only the win, but the way we won."
Up next: Portland at Houston, 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 3, the fourth of five consecutive away games.
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