SEATTLE — A banner display by Seattle’s Emerald City Supporters prior to Saturday’s match at CenturyLink Field read “Welcome to your nightmare.”
There was a time earlier this season when having to defend 11 corner kicks — eight in the first half — and multiple dangerous free kicks would have been nightmarish for the Portland Timbers. But not anymore, which is a significant reason why the Timbers are still chasing their MLS Cup dreams.
“Earlier in the season we had a little bit of an issue defending free kicks,” Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts said after the Timbers outscored the Sounders 2-1 in the first of the two-leg playoff series. “But we sorted everything out. We’re solid now. So we can defend anything.”
It helps to have the experienced 6-foot-4 Rickets defending the goal. His save on a Clint Dempsey free kick was a key early moment in Saturday’s match.
Timbers coach Caleb Porter called it a great save, but said it was nothing special for Ricketts. Ricketts said he anticipated the shot and was in position to make the play.
Jack Jewsbury said it took some midseason soul searching to sort out set-piece defense.
“I think guys realized in those moments you’ve got to be locked in a little more. The reality is we had a sit down as a team and said ‘Hey, these are game-changing moments where points are won or lost,’ ” Jewsbury said. “I think guys stepped up a little bit and almost made it a personal challenge not to get beat in those moments.”
• Sounders forward Lamar Neagle will miss Thursday’s match after picking up a second playoff yellow card on Saturday. But the Sounders hope that forward Obafemi Martins (groin injury) might be able to play.
• Sounders right back DeAndre Yedlin (ankle) did not play on Saturday, but is expected to be ready for Thursday’s match.