PORTLAND – Skilled, savvy strikers are a big reason the Seattle Sounders sit atop Major League Soccer. On Sunday, the Portland Timbers and their fans at Providence Park were treated to a painful show of that firepower.
Seattle was devastating on the counter attack in a 4-2 win over its rival. The Sounders scored twice in each half to beat Portland for the third time in a row in all competitions. Timbers striker Fanendo Adi scored two goals, but despite controlling possession for long periods, the Timbers couldn't overcome the Sounders ability to punish them in transition.
Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey scored in the first half and Martins and Chad Barrett converted in the second half as all four Seattle goals game from transition plays. Those quality finishes and several first-class saves from goalkeeper Stefan Frei added up to an impressive result for the league leaders.
"I thought we played well in the first half, but yet we were down 2-0 because of mistakes. That's what's disappointing is it's kind of the same old story a little bit," Timbers coach Caleb Porter said.
That story is one of a vulnerable defense that has allowed 43 goals through 25 games – 10 in three matches against Seattle. Last season the Timbers, finishing atop the Western Conference, allowed only 33 goals in 34 games.
The Timbers (7-8-10, 31 points) remain two points back of the fifth-place Vancouver Whitecaps in the Western Conference. The top five teams in each conference make the MLS playoffs. Portland has nine matches remaining, Vancouver 10. The Timbers and Whitecaps face off two more times, including on Saturday in British Columbia.
Seattle (14-7-3, 45 points) regained the lead in the Western Conference and in the race for the Supporters Shield. The Sounders are three points up on FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake in the West, and two better than East-leading DC United.
It didn't matter that the Timbers dominated many phases of Sunday's match – earning 13 corner kicks (nine in the first half), possessing the ball 55 percent of the time and completing almost 80 percent of their passes. The Sounders were effective in defending their own penalty area and lethal when they managed to penetrate Portland's.
"I think the performance was probably better than the scoreline indicated," Portland defender Danny O'Rourke said.
The Sounders first goal came in the 18th minute. The opportunity developed after Portland's Diego Chara failed to win the ball from Brad Evans at midfield. The Sounders found DeAndre Yedlin in space on the right wing. Evans ran away from Chara and Yedlin found him in position to sprint past Liam Ridgewell into the penalty area. Evans slid a pass across the front of goal that Martins reached for a tap-in.
"I think they just made a very good play and made that room for themselves," Ridgewell said. "We're trying to push forward and they hit us on a counter attack."
The second Seattle goal, scored in the 34th minute, was especially painful for Portland. The play started with the Timbers taking a corner kick. But when the speedy Martins collected the clearing pass, the Timbers were in scramble mode. O'Rourke tried to slow Martins down long enough for his teammates to recover, but Dempsey took a pass from Martins and chipped it past Portland goalkeeper Donovan Rickets as Michael Harrington tried to disrupt the shot.
"When I was delaying Martins I didn't see Dempsey coming that way. It was probably a good run by him and a good finish," O'Rourke said. "But that's one of the things we've got to straighten out."
Or, as Porter put it, "Very avoidable goal. Shouldn't happen."
Barrett scored to make it 3-0 in the 70th minute off a drop pass from Dempsey at the end of yet another Seattle counter attack, this one started when Dempsey won possession near the top of his defensive penalty area.
Adi scored his first goal in front of the Portland fans three minutes later, but Martins burst through the Portland defense three minutes after that for another counter-attack goal. Adi's second goal came from a goalmouth scramble in stoppage time.
The loss means Portland is out of the Cascadia Cup chase, and will be scrambling over the final nine games to try to grab a playoff spot. It appears the Whitecaps, Timbers and Colorado Rapids will be battling for the last berth in the West. Next Saturday's match in British Columbia was going to be vital no matter the outcome against the Sounders.
"You never forget losses like this – never," Ridgewell said. "But you've just got to try to put it to the back of your mind and remember it when you need to but try to move past it and look to the next game."