|David Guzman couldn't go for Portland due to injury, but Andres Flores filled in.|
Portland - Seattle matches have a contentious feel to them regardless of the situation or stakes, as we've witnessed in the 5 preceding meetings (1 preseason match, 3 regular season matches, 1 playoff match) between the rivals, but there was more tension heaped on the second leg due to certain circumstances. The match itself had to be moved up 3 days from the original kick date of November 11 due to a facilities conflict with the Sounders FC home pitch (The Seahawks had a home game on November 4 while an international car show was scheduled from November 9 - 11 on site), so it was slated for Thursday, November 8 which compressed the legs for both teams. While Seattle had to feel good about being within a goal and having the road goals advantage, they lost 2 key players in Chad Marshall and Cristian Roldan due to injuries in leg 1, and neither would be available for the return trip. Portland's offense had moments of pure brilliance in leg 1, but they had to feel slightly nervous getting just 2 goals at home despite having several great chances to add to their lead. Portland also had an injury issue of their own, as midfielder David Guzman was unavailable for leg 2 after knocking heads with Seattle's Gustav Svensson on a 1st half corner kick. Guzman left the match in the second half after feeling dizzy, but apparently his hamstrings had been giving him concern; David has been one of the consistent players down the stretch for the Timbers. Timbers Coach Gio Savarese had some decisions to make about replacing Guzman, but in true form, Gio made other adjustments to his side to see if they could secure the series win.
|Lucas Melano was a late sub for Portland, and he was superlative|
I haven't made a habit of going back to read my work at the previous site, but I admit that being there live, it was difficult to capture all of the competing emotions going on that Double Post night. Even watching a documentary film put together by MLS, while certainly impressively and thoughfully done, couldn't completely capture everything that I felt on that chilly evening back in October 2015. It's hard not to see complete parallels between the two matches despite the differing locations and participants - a first half of teams trying to figure out a master plan, a second half where a team takes an advantage only to see it countered rather quickly, and then a crazy extra time frame that led to penalties. I wouldn't say that Savarese's approach in the first 45 minutes was conservative, but it was in so much that both teams were still trying to build the chemistry and tempo needed to find a break, and with the stakes of the match essentially being a single goal, getting the first tally would be paramount. Yet when Ruidiaz knocked in a shot when Attinella had trouble handling a rebounding ball in the 68th minute, I still felt there were plenty of goals in the match. Sure enough, Asprilla replaces Polo in the 72nd minute and within 4 minutes, Dairon made a play for the ages in settling a cross from Villafana on the right side. His deft footwork settled the ball for Blanco, and Seba did the rest to level the score at 1 and put the Timbers within 12 minutes and stoppage time of advancing.
|Ozzie Alonso did his usual best to disrupt the Timbers all evening.|
Extra time couldn't have started off better for Portland, as Valeri dribbled up the right flank and put a cross to the left post area where Asprilla was waiting. With little cover from the Sounders defense and Frei drifted off towards the left post, Dairon put a header into the right corner that put Portland up 4 to 3 as Asprilla executed a crazy back flip celebration followed by being mobbed by his teammates. Yet the emotions were tested again in the 97th minute off a cross into the Timbers box that struck Blanco's forearm in the melee, and Center Official Jair Marrufo pointed to the spot for a penalty. Yes, it was a very harsh call on Blanco, who appeared to be doing everything possible to avoid handling the ball, but the bouncing and location were enough to award the home side the penalty. When Sounders midfielder Nicolas Lodiero slotted it in past Attinella to even the score at 4 to 4, I had to wonder if there would be any other goals in the final 20 plus minutes of soccer. Both teams had some chances to attack the goal, but when the final whistle blew, it would be a series of penalties that would decided the series winner. Several of the Timbers weren't sure of this development as they were celebrating the result, thinking the 2 away goals would be enough to advance them - not realizing that MLS doesn't observe the away goal rule in extra time.
|Diego Chara played all 120 minutes against the Sounders without a caution.|
The celebrations about the advancement have continued throughout the subsequent days, and now Portland can recharge and recalibrate their approach with over 2 weeks between playoff legs. Sporting Kansas City did outlast upstart Real Salt Lake in their 2 leg semifinal, but the normally stout SKC defense had serious issues keeping RSL from scoring goals at points, showing a vulnerability that many haven't seen from this group much this year. Both offenses have to feel confident knowing the regular season meetings between the 2 teams didn't feature fully complete teams, and they have the ability to score goals in bunches. The key deciding factor in this series will fall upon the defense, as it will likely be won by whichever group can provide enough hurdles against the other side to stop them from scoring. The winner of this series will advance to play the winner of the Eastern Conference finals between Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls, the top 2 points teams in the 2018 MLS Regular Season. The tasks don't get any easier this time of year, but seeing the passion and belief that I've seen from this Portland team, they are going to be an extremely difficult matchup for any of the remaining sides. Experts are predicting it will be SKC in the West with even odds between the Red Bulls and Atlanta advancing, but a lot can happen between now and that December 8 MLS Cup date.