|Jeff Attinella gets ready for a shot on goal.|
Just over a month ago, Portland lost in Orlando City when the home side scored 3 goals in the final 10 minutes to steal a victory, but since that dramatic result, the Timbers have won 4 in a row starting with a gut check win against Minnesota United to start their home slate of matches. Timbers Coach Gio Savarese has made some dramatic changes in the lineup since that win by bringing in goalkeeper Jeff Attinella and defender Liam Ridgewell for the match against New York, and mixing up the attacking philosophy. The tactics since this changeover have resulted in 3 wins by shutout with 5 total goals highlighted by an improving defense and an opportunistic offense. Attinella and Ridgewell would again get the call to start against Seattle in defense alongside compatriots Larrys Mabiala, Alvas Powell and Zarek Valentin. Savarese would change up the attack by going with the Christmas Tree formation of 3 central midfielders, 2 attacking midfielders and a lone striker. To that end, it was Diego Chara, Cristhian Paredes and Andy Polo playing defense mids, Blanco and Diego Valeri slotted as attacking mids and Fanendo Adi as the forward. In this approach, it would be imperative to see Polo, Valentin and Powell get forward as much as possible to help the offense, but they would need to drop back quickly if a counter attack arose. Considering this approach worked so well versus NYCFC, it seemed like a good move to bring it back for another run against an extremely depleted Sounders side.
|Zarek Valentin leaps to head the ball in first half action|
Seattle had drawn against Columbus at home on May 6 in a scoreless snooze fest before playing their first MLS midweek match in Toronto FC against the defending champions. They shocked many experts by beating TFC 2 to 1 before heading back to the Pacific Northwest to play their rivals to the South. Sounders FC Coach Brian Schmetzer would have to dig deep on his bench to find a lineup with six key players - Will Bruin, Waylon Francis, Nicolas Lodiero, Jordan Morris, Roman Torres and Victor Rodriguez - unavailable, and his tasks got worse when it was discovered that Osvaldo Alonzo would not be ready to play either. Seattle still had Stefan Frei in goal, who has been solid at times, Chad Marshall, the steady and insightful defender, and Cristian Roldan, who has quietly become a solid playmaking force. The mercurial one, Clint Dempsey, was also healthy and available, and the Sounders have brought in Roldan's brother, Alex, who has provided some good depth as well. Schmetzer did employ what attacking options he had available in his starting line up with Dempsey, the Roldans and forward Jordy Delem, but the approach would be to leave midfielders Gunnar Svensson and Mangus Eikrem at home in the middle. When attacking, defenders Kelvin Leerdam and Nouhou Tolo would move forward as much as possible, but in defense, they would drop back and bunker in front of Frei. It was very much a "park the bus" approach, but considering Seattle had played midweek already, you could understand a more conservative approach.
And despite being the 100th such meeting of the sides, there were really no stakes to play for outside of pride. MLS has been following an unbalanced schedule for several years and 2018 was no exception, but in this year, the unbalanced impacted the Cascadia Cup. While the Timbers and Sounders would play each other 3 times in the regular season, the Sounders and Timbers only play the Vancouver Whitecaps 2 times in 2018 - thus throwing off the balance. The Cascadia Cup Council made up of representatives of the varied supporters groups (Timbers Army, Southsiders, Emerald City Supporters/Gorilla FC to name a few) decided to only count the last 2 Timbers-Sounders meetings, so this result would not affect the status of the Cup. For the current holders of said cup, the Timbers Army, this meant having to wait for June 30th when the Timbers travel north to start officially defending their honor. But as previously mentioned, rivalries don't depend so much on stakes and that was apparent in arriving to the match 2 hours ahead of kick to find both supporters groups already stuck in song and getting ready for the later events.
|After a slow start, the physicality picked up greatly in this match.|
Seattle's conservative strategy continued after the break as the visitors logged just 2 shots in the second half with nothing official after the 63rd minute. Tolo's shot in the 48th minute forced Attinella to make a quality catch in traffic, but outside of that, the offense in the second half belonged to Portland. Valeri and Adi worked a lovely one-two drop pass near the box that put Diego free on goal in the 59th minute, but Svensson was able to deflect the shot away at the very last moment with Frei out of position. Polo and Valentin worked to create space in the 68th minute with Polo putting a curling shot towards Frei that forced a save from the Sounders keeper, but with the minutes ticking away, it appeared that the Sounders might steal a point as the Timbers couldn't find a goal. Mabiala missed a header in the 84th minute off a corner kick that looked like the last real chance of the day until substitute Samuel Armenteros created the game winning goal. Armenteros entered for Adi in the 79th minute and tried to earn a penalty in the 80th minute when Chara put a pass to Samuel to the top of the box with Marshall nearby. The Seattle centerback and Armenteros collided accidentally going for the ball in the box, and while there were calls for a penalty, Sibiga waived them off.
|This is comical. Yet very scary at the same time.|
Portland won't get that much rest as they continue their home stand on Saturday, May 19 in hosting LAFC before they travel to Colorado to play the Rapids on May 26. Portland then gets another back to back home matches as the Galaxy visit Providence Park on Saturday, June 2 followed by a visit from Sporting Kansas City on June 9. The Timbers then get a break for most of June for World Cup 2018 before they make a tough road trip to Atlanta on June 24 and the Seattle match on June 30th. There is also U.S. Open Cup matches forthcoming, as rumors put the Timbers' opening match for the annual competition sometime in mid June as well. But for now, the supporters and the cats can celebrate a hard fought victory against the invaders from the North.