PORTLAND — The Portland Timbers never really gave the Seattle Sounders a chance.
Oh, Seattle scored twice in the second half to add a bit of intrigue. But in front of a revved up sellout crowd of 20,674 on Thursday at Jeld-Wen Field, the Timbers put a stamp of dominance on their rivals from the north, beating the Sounders 3-2 to win the Major League Soccer playoff series by a score of 5-3.
The Timbers advance to face Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference final. That is a two-leg, total goals series. The first game is at 6 p.m. on Sunday in Utah. The Timbers will host the second leg on Nov. 24.
The two-week break is a result of World Cup qualification matches which could take players away from their MLS teams.
Will Johnson converted a penalty kick after a Seattle handball in the 29th minute and Diego Valeri scored a beautiful goal in the 44th to give Portland a three-goal lead on total goals at halftime. Two minutes into the second half, defender Futty Danso made it 3-0 with a header from a Rodney Wallace cross.
Goals two minutes apart from DeAndre Yedlin and Eddie Johnson gave the Sounders a glimmer of life for the final 20 minutes. Clint Dempsey just missed tying the match in the 89th minute. But Portland’s early assault on offense was too much for Seattle to repel.
The score could have been worse for Seattle at the break. Portland was the better team from the get-go. With the Timbers finding space to create in the attacking third, they had six quality scoring chances in the first 20 minutes. Valeri, Darlington Nagbe and Wallace were very active around the top of the 18-yard box, and that activity created both first-half goals.
Coach Caleb Porter called it the best half his team has played so far this season.
“Our pressure was as good as I’ve seen it all season when we had it going,” Porter said.He was also pleased with the combination play and his team’s ability to control possession.
“We should have had more goals. The coach in me is going to look at the tape and say we should have scored five or six goals,” Porter said.
Will Johnson’s penalty kick was awarded after a quick throw-in to Jack Jewsbury, whose attempt to flick the ball forward was blocked by the arm of a Seattle player.
Jewsbury is usually the player taking throw-ins, but this time he ran into the only available space. “They let me run free into the box. I just tried to flick it around the guy. It looked to me – I haven’t seen the replay – like it hit him right in the palm of his hand.”
Valeri’s goal came at the end of some nice one-touch passes, with Wallace rolling a pass that Valeri darted to and directed into the goal.
“I was very, very happy for the goal,” Valeri said. “But I’m very very happy for the team. We deserved that win.”
Wallace caused the Sounders fits all night. He nearly scored in the third minute, and he and his fellow attacking players found and used plenty of space in the attacking third. A Seattle team playing its fourth match in 12 days didn’t have an answer for Portland’s spirited attack.
“Rodney’s huge for us,” Darlington Nagbe said. “He’s always active. He’s looking to stretch the defenses and open up space for Valeri and other guys to come under and try and play.”
The Timbers are unbeaten in 10 consecutive games, seven of those wins. The last loss was 4-2on Aug. 30 at Real Salt Lake, the place the battle for a spot in MLS Cup final begins on Sunday.
The winner of the Western Conference final will meet the winner of the Eastern Conference final between Sporting Kansas City and Houston in the MLS Cup championship match. If Portland wins the West, it would either host Houston or visit Kansas City for the final match, which is scheduled for December 7.
By winning their first-ever playoff series, the Timbers not only knocked out their rivals, they equaled the number of playoff wins the Sounders have managed despite qualifying for the postseason in each of their five MLS seasons.
TIMBERS 3, SOUNDERS 2
Seattle FC 0 2—2
Portland 2 1—3
First half—1, Portland, Johnson 10 (penalty kick), 29th minute. 2, Portland, Valeri 11 (Wallace), 44th.
Second half—3, Portland, Danso 1 (Wallace, Johnson), 47th. 4, Seattle FC, Yedlin 2, 74th. 5, Seattle FC, Johnson 11 (Yedlin), 75th.
Goalies—Seattle FC, Michael Gspurning; Portland, Donovan Ricketts.
Yellow Cards—Kah, Portland, 26th; Burch, Seattle FC, 40th; Dempsey, Seattle FC, 49th; Chara, Portland, 53rd.
Referee—Hilario Grajeda. Assistant Referees—Paul Scott. Bill Dittmar. 4th Official—David Gantar.
Seattle FC—Michael Gspurning, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, DeAndre Yedlin, Marc Burch, Djimi Traore, Adam Moffat (Mauro Rosales, 58th), Osvaldo Alonso (Andy Rose, 84th), Shalrie Joseph (Obafemi Martins, 49th), Brad Evans, Eddie Johnson, Clint Dempsey.
Portland—Donovan Ricketts, Pa-Modou Kah, Rodney Wallace, Michael Harrington, Mamadou Danso, Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe (Ben Zemanski, 82nd), Will Johnson, Jack Jewsbury, Diego Valeri (Kalif Alhassan, 61st), Ryan Johnson (Maximiliano Urruti, 69th).