PORTLAND — Agony, then ecstasy. Ecstasy, then too much Dempsey.
At the end of a captivating Saturday contest between Northwest rivals, the Portland Timbers left Providence Park feeling they gave away a win against their bitterest of rivals.
Clint Dempsey scored three goals, two in the closing moments, as Seattle’s Sounders rallied for an improbable 4-4 draw.
The tie was the third in as many home matches for the Timbers, who are still seeking their first win of 2014, five games into the Major League Soccer season.
For Portland, the inability to turn away Seattle’s desperate attacking late in the match raised more serious questions, questions that are likely to overshadow a brilliant offensive outing.
Defensive midfielder Diego Chara scored two goals on shots from outside the penalty area. Maximiliano Urruti added another, and Diego Valeri produced his first bit of magic this season. Until Dempsey was left unmarked for a finish in the 85th minute to give the Sounders life, the Timbers were poised for a statement win in the first Cascadia Cup battle of the season.
“The competitor in me is dejected, and (the players) as well,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter said. “The coach in me is very encouraged by a lot of the things I saw today.”
Former Timber Kenny Cooper opened the scoring less than three minutes into the match, capitalizing on a poorly defended corner kick. But Chara, who turned 28 on Saturday, launched the first of two surprise missiles when he raced out of midfield and beat Seattle keeper Stefan Frei in the ninth minute.
Valeri’s first goal of the season came five minutes later to give Portland a quick 2-1 lead. Michael Harrington raced up the left wing and fed Valeri, who was posted with his back to the goal before turning to fire a shot into the roof of the net.
Dempsey tied it 10 minutes later, bending a shot around goalkeeper Andrew Weber on a counter attack after pressure from Seattle forced an errant pass from Norberto Paparatto.
The frantic pace didn’t settle down after halftime. Chara charged out of midfield to score his second goal in the 55th minute, and two minutes later it was Urruti making a steal and converting on the counter attack.
The Timbers kept up the pressure, and came close a couple of times to adding a fifth goal — including a Paparatto header in the 65th minute that hit the crossbar and bounced on the goal line.
The Sounders, by contrast, went 24 minutes between shots as the Timbers owned the game after taking a two-goal lead. But from the 75th minute to the 93rd, Seattle reeled of nine consecutive shots, six of them from Dempsey.
The shot that counted most came from point-blank range in the 85th minute, pulling the Sounders within 4-3 and ramping up their attack even more.
Somehow, Dempsey found all kinds of space, and when a cross deflected off a Portland defender, he drilled the ball off the turf and past a helpless Weber.
Weber, playing for the suspended Donovan Ricketts, said he saw Dempsey but thought he was going to be covered.
“It took a deflection and went right to him,” Weber said. “When you get caught watching a bit and not tracking, which is what happened on the first goal and the third goal, it costs you.”
“It’s a run from the midfield and we didn’t deal with it at the back,” Timbers defender Pa Modou Kah said. “It’s a tough one to take because we trained on it yesterday.”
Moments later, Ben Zemanski — who replaced a hobbled Darlington Nagbe in the 85th minute — fouled DeAndre Yedlin who broke free inside the penalty area. Dempsey calmly converted the 87th-minute penalty kick for the 4-4 draw.
“It’s nothing to do with organization. To me it’s about individuals stepping up and making plays,” Porter said of the defensive letdown.
Interestingly, Porter said his team defended very well for much of the afternoon.
“Our pressure was relentless. I thought we were organized the majority of the game,” Porter said. “In any game against good teams and good players you’re going to give up some looks. But I thought for the majority of the game we defended very well. We attacked very well.”
The goals were the first of the season for all three Timbers who scored Saturday, and the first for Chara since 2012. Valeri said shooting — the Timbers tried 19 shots, the Sounders 22 — was emphasized as Portland looked to awaken an offense that scored only three times in the first four games this season.
Valeri wasn’t surprised to see Chara score. “Everybody has to help score. Diego, he has good feet and today he shot it in.”
Porter praised the play of his attacking players — who on Saturday were Urruti up top with Nagbe and Kalif Alhassan on the wings and Valeri in the attacking midfield position. The coach also praised defensive midfielders Chara and Will Johnson, and the play of Alvas Powell who played in place of Jack Jewsbury to give Portland added speed at right back.
“I thought there were some other guys that underperformed and didn’t make plays and made mistakes,” Porter said.
Valeri said the four goals will breathe confidence for himself and the Timbers attack. But in the moments after the topsy-turvy match, he wasn’t in a mood to focus on potential upsides.
“Now we are a little bit sad about the draw,” Valeri said. “Now it’s a little bit early to do a scouting (review).”
SOUNDERS 4, TIMBERS 4
Seattle FC 2 2—4
Portland 2 2—4
First half—1, Seattle FC, Cooper 2 (Anibaba, Pineda), 3rd minute. 2, Portland, Chara 1, 9th. 3, Portland, Valeri 1 (Harrington), 14th. 4, Seattle FC, Dempsey 2 (Martins, Alonso), 24th.
Second half—5, Portland, Chara 2 (Alhassan), 55th. 6, Portland, Urruti 1, 57th. 7, Seattle FC, Dempsey 3 (Martins, Neagle), 85th. 8, Seattle FC, Dempsey 4 (penalty kick), 87th.
Goalies—Seattle FC, Stefan Frei; Portland, Andrew Weber.
Yellow Cards—Azira, Seattle FC, 5th; Pineda, Seattle FC, 29th; Kah, Portland, 33rd; Johnson, Portland, 35th; Chara, Portland, 50th; Paparatto, Portland, 66th; Yedlin, Seattle FC, 70th.
Referee—Hilario Grajeda. Assistant Referees_Kermit Quisenberry. Paul Scott. 4th Official_Younes Marrakchi.
Seattle FC—Stefan Frei, Chad Marshall, Leo Gonzalez, DeAndre Yedlin, Jalil Anibaba, Micheal Azira (Marco Pappa, 68th), Osvaldo Alonso, Gonzalo Pineda, Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Kenny Cooper (Lamar Neagle, 60th).
Portland—Andrew Weber, Pa-Modou Kah, Michael Harrington, Alvas Powell, Norberto Paparatto, Diego Chara, Kalif Alhassan, Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe (Ben Zemanski, 85th), Will Johnson (Steve Zakuani, 89th), Maximiliano Urruti (Frederic Piquionne, 84th).