SEATTLE — The significance of the Portland Timbers first Major League Soccer win at CenturyLink Field was won’t be clear until Thursday.
But the Timbers’ playoff debut was a 2-1 win on their rivals turf that is worth a leg up in this two-game series.
Ryan Johnson scored early and Darlington Nagbe tallied midway through the second half for the Timbers, who led 2-0 until the 90th minute when Osvaldo Alonso scored from a long throw-in to tighten the margin of the two-match rivalry battle.
A crowd of 38,507 watched the Saturday chapter at CenturyLink Field. The second leg will be played in Portland at 8 p.m. on Thursday.
“I like our chances,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter said. “Obviously, we have to play as well as we did this game. We have to be as hungry. We have to fight as hard. We have to be as organized. But we can play better, and I know we will play better at home.”
The team with the most goals at the end of two games wins the series and advances to the Western Conference finals. So a draw on Thursday would be enough for Portland.
“It’s amazing that we’re a little disappointed, actually, because we gave up one late,” Timbers defender Jack Jewsbury said. “But at the end of the day, if you would have told us that we got (a win) on the road to start the playoffs we’d be very happy.”
Ryan Johnson’s goal in the 15th minute was a sharp angle header at the near post. Diego Chara set up the play with a pass to Jewsbury in open space. Jewsbury worked the ball near the goal line and sent a sharp cross the Johnson flicked into the left-side netting.
“It’s just reaction,” Johnson said. “It’s something that you always work on in training. You miss them nine times out of 10. The keeper makes the save. In a big-game situation for it to work out the way that it did is a special thing.”
In the 67th minute, Nagbe made it 2-0. He sliced through the penalty area to receive an entry pass from Kalif Alhassan and turned and fired it into the goal to give Portland the 2-0 lead.
Moments after coming on for Diego Valeri in the 64th minute, Alhassan had a half-chance off another Jewsbury cross from deep on the right wing, but the ball bounced to goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann.
Ryan Johnson had a counter-attack chance for a third goal, but Leo Gonzalez recovered to block his shot attempt.
Alonso’s goal came when a long throw-in bounced to him in front of goal.
Seattle, and particularly Clint Dempsey, had chances to leave tied or ahead.
Early in the second half, Seattle’s Eddie Johnson had an open header off a free kick, but sent it well wide.
Dempsey had a chance to answer in the 75th minute, but his left-footed shot from 12 yards out screamed outside the left post. In the 87th minute, Dempsey’s header from a corner kick bounced off the turf and over the goal. In the dying seconds of added time, Dempsey had a close-range header that went right at Ricketts.
Seattle had 11 corner kicks to Portland’s one, including an 8-0 edge in the first half. The Sounders also had a series of dangerous free kicks but did not beat Ricketts. A pair of Dempsey free kicks came close, but Ricketts made a nice save to deny a shot toward the upper right corner in the 20th minute, and Dempsey sent another free kick just above the crossbar.
“I kind of cheated (to the left) a little bit, so it was much easier,” Ricketts said in describing the most difficult of his four saves.
Also in the first half, Seattle’s Brad Evans’ had a half-volley chance from 10 yards in front of goal that bounced right at Ricketts, and Eddie Johnson sent a contested header wide.
NOTES — Portland’s Rodney Wallace picked up a yellow card late in the first half. The Sounders had outscored the Timbers 6-2 in four previous MLS matches at Century Link Field, with Seattle’s 3-0 win in October of last season accounting for most of that difference.