• Late Alonso goal gives Seattle Sounders hope for second leg
• Johnson and Nagbe give Portland Timbers road win
Did Osvaldo Alonso just save the Sounders season? When Clint Dempsey's header bounced up and off the bar it looked like one of those nights where the Sounders could play all night and not score, and also as if a Portland side confident on their ability to manage a game had executed perfectly, right down to the subs Alhassan and Zemanski slotting perfectly into their roles. But then in the final minute, Alonso came up with the goal that may not have been enough to save the game, but did so much to give Seattle momentum going into the return.
Portland scored at the perfect time in both halves. Absorbing early pressure and apparently pre-empting the Seattle late-game onslaught. They found space through that new look Seattle defense — not often, but right when it mattered, and they should be happy with much of what they did tonight. And yet...
…Seattle dominated the first half of the recent league game until the Timbers stole the game-winner just before half-time. If the Sounders could start similarly sharply and get the benefit of a kinder bounce here and there we could be set up for a grandstand finish to this game. Hopefully it's as entertaining as tonight's game. I'll be there to cover it — thanks for joining me tonight. for now, good night.
Final thoughts in a minute.
Hahnemann launches a free kick forward for a last attack. Eddie Johnson heads it down but there's nobody there. It's just about cleared as far as Rosales who floats what indeed is the last forward ball of the game into the box, only for Dempsey to win the header but head straight at Ricketts, and that will be that.
Neagle tries a little trickery wide right, trying to end his interest in this series with a decisive touch, but his short through ball is overhit.
Seattle understandably pressing like fury now. A long throw is worked clear by Portland and then they get a goal kick off a long ball that they'll be in no hurry to take.
Burch to the corner flag, curls back a cross that's forced out only as far as Alonso, who sense glory, but blazes his shot wide of the post. Time running out for the Sounders. Portland have defended very, very confidently. They'll have to see out four minutes of stoppage time...
…and they won't. A long throw is flicked on and Alonso arrives in the box to volley the ball right down the middle and past Ricketts! The Sounders have halted the lead and have their first ever first leg playoff goal!
Dempsey attacks the corner and heads down into the turf, which does what turf sometimes does and sends the ball springing back higher than expected — the ball beats Ricketts but glances off the bar for a goal kick. Did that moment decide this series?
Game getting rather wild in the last few minutes as Seattle battle and Portland defend equally desperately. Harrington chops out at Rosales wide right and he'll have a free kick in a dangerous position to curl in a ball for his team mates to attack. Joseph climbs for it but can't get it on target, and portland clear. Second chance for Rosales and this one's sent for a corner.
Zemanski picks up a booking for attacking the corner a title too vigorously and barging a Seattle defender. Burch on now for Gonzalez for Seattle. Like for like.
Portland still looking comfortable with Zemanski now packed into that compressed midfield and the Sounders struggling for space. They have a free kick in the Timbers half now, which Rosales will loft into the box. Headed clear. Dempsey retrieves and Seattle try to keep pressing, but suddenly their worst fears are almost realized as Portland spring a counter.
Alhassan finds Johnson racing free. He cuts inside on the edge of the box and for a moment Seattle hearts are in mouths as the ball deflects goal wards off the last man, but it loops wide of the post. Corner to Portland though.
Problem for Seattle now as they have to face a free kick from wide right near the corner of the box. It's swung in by Will Johnson and cleared by the Sounders, though Portland make some half-hearted appeals for a penalty. Still Seattle 0-2 Portland
Joseph hasn't played since August and the Sounders go to something like a 4-1-3-2 with Alonso sitting and Dempsey definitively up front with Johnson.
Seattle going for it.
A small cameo there of Michael Harrington taking the foulest of foul throws. He looked like he was doffing his hat to his team mate. In the fashion of these things in MLS, nobody says anything...
Shalrie Joseph is about to come on for Seattle, which…well...
Now there's frantic activity in the Portland box as Seattle desperately compete for the ball and force a great chance for Dempsey in space just inside the box. He's off balance but shapes well to shoot and blazes inches over the bar as half the crowd were on their feet anticipating a goal.
Joseph comes on for Moffat.
Zemanski will tuck into midfield and help keep an eye on Rosales. Seattle laying siege now, but still not getting many clear chances.
Seattle fans yelling their team on, but over-committing now could see the Sounders killed off here. Still 110 minutes of this tie to go. But they may need to rethink the advantages of the formation they've chosen given the currently available personnel for the return.
Now Ben Zemanski comes on for Portland to replace Darlington Nagbe and try to see this one out.
Seattle doggedly try to keep attacking but that was a really tough goal to concede. Traore shoots from the edge of the box, but it's straight at Ricketts. Then Evans whips in a ball to the back post and Jewsbury just about does enough to concede the corner. It's floated in and Seattle huff and puff, only for the ball to eventually drop kindly for Ricketts to claim and clear.
Rope-a-dope part 2! The lively Alhassan has space on the right to find the even more lively Nagbe racing int the box. He spins, turns, and finishes perfectly, low into the net for another beautiful counter punch!
Rosales instantly brought down to the left of the Timbers half and he'll be able to take the free kick towards where Dempsey has joined the Sounders attack. He gets a touch but not goal wards and after a brief Seattle call for a foul on Neagle (would have been very soft) Portland will get it clear.
Scott comes off and Rosales comes on. He'll slot in in midfield to try and make his crosses stretch that Portland back line while Evans will go back to right back. We'll probably see Dempsey move further forward too as Seattle chase a leveler.
The next chance is Portland's though as a scramble in the Sounders box almost sees Alhassan get a touch as the ball bobbles loose, before Hahnemann dives on it.
Alhassan coming in for the Timbers, just as Neagle tries to force his way through the heart of defense, only for the ball to skew up and away harmlessly. Alhassan replaces Valeri, who's been quiet and who picked up that knock from beagle earlier.
Zach Scott is down again by the way. Seattle may have to make a change of their own.
As neutral I'd like to see a Seattle goal just to hear the noise it causes. For now the sound of the stadium seems to be infected by an understandably nervous tone.
Seattle still probing, and Moffat gets to the left hand corner and pulls a cross back, past the first man, but hoofed clear by Will Johnson. Game getting stretched. Still Seattle 0-1 Portland after an hour.
Portland will be very happy if this current phase of the game continues in this fashion and Seattle get frustrated and potentially open to the rapid counter. Like the 2011 Galaxy, they've developed a pattern of killing off games from 1-0 up.
Evans tries to jumpstart something by shooting from outside the box, but his drive is pulled just past the post as Chara races to cover him.
The lack of the overlapping full backs (Scott is no Yedlin) is beginning to make Seattle look a little stolid trying to play through this narrow Portland midfield. They have a brief scare when Ryan Johnson is shoulder charged in the box by Scott chasing a through ball, then resume their rather indifferent chipping away at the Portland defense.
Chara and Nagbe crowd out Moffat to win the ball in midfield, then Nagbe runs at Alonso, who "stops" him.
A minute later Nagbe picks up a free kick in his own half as Gonzalez crashes into him from behind. Seattle clearly keen not to let the dangerous playmaker get turned towards goal on the ball, wherever he happens to be on the field.
Mr Toledo has had a very good game as ref so far, by the way: pretty consistent, keeping his cards in his pocket mostly and not interrupting the game. Now he awards a Portland offside to demonstrate his range.
Seattle attack, lose the ball and briefly have to cover as Ryan Johnson tries to chase down a hopeful ball out of defense that Hurtado is always favorite for.
Seattle get another free kick wide right and Demspey's driven cross just fades as it arrives in the box and Eddie Johnson's glancing header can't get the power or direction to trouble Ricketts. he did well to lose kay on the ball in though. Still Seattle 0-1 Portland
Damning stat: Seattle have never scored a goal in, let alone won a first leg in playoff history. Can they at least amend the first part of that stat tonight? Dempsey and Neagle try a little interplay in front of the D in search of a goal, but lose the ball and seconds later a frustrated Neagle clatters into Valeri and picks up a yellow card.
Importantly that will mean Neagle is suspended for the return game. Might we see another formation switch with Dempsey pushed back up front?
We're underway again. Portland kick off.
Hahnemann has been beaten in this game, as he was in the last game between these two, without having a lot to do. Donovan Ricketts has been busier at the other end without being unduly pressured himself — though he was called on to save a Dempsey free kick headed for the top corner, and again to watch another fierce free kick fly just over the bar.
Caleb Porter being interviewed as the team comes off, pleased to have got the ball but wanting his team to "have some more of the ball" and to switch the play to the weaker Sounders side when they do so.
The Timbers have the lead though and in the most ideal of circumstances. They'd drawn the sting of the atmosphere and (slightly indistinct) pressure of the first 15 minutes or so and looked to be tentatively probing their way into the game when Chara did exactly what Porter wants and pushed the ball out wide for Jewsbury in space to make the goal for Ryan Johnson. It was a beautiful sucker punch, and had the Timbers showed a little more composure just before half time they might have found a killer second.
For the Sounders part, Dempsey was heavily involved - mainly because of the multitude of corners and free kicks the Timbers gave up. Portland defended said set pieces decently enough, though that's no recipe to see out the second half. On the defensive side Seattle got Moffat and Evans into advanced positions to cause problems, but left themselves vulnerable out wide to moves like the one that led to the goal. They'll have to commit again in the second half — can Portland hurt them on the counter?
A few players trying wasteful flicks for both sides here, ending with Djimi "Champions League" Traore back heeling the ball to a team mate. Seattle go up the field and get another corner. Not much time to take it with only a minute added on.
Ricketts punches clear, and then portland burst upfield on the counter, but Wallace and Nagbe get tangled up as they try to work the ball into the box. Portland retain possession and the half ends with Jack Jewsbury cutting inside and firing straight at Hahnemann from distance.
Half time thoughts in a moment.
Portland try to play some neat little passing triangle in the Seattle half and get the desired result when a frustrated Alonso goes in too hard on Will Johnson and is penalized. They get a little period of relief before conceding a free kick of their own and then picking up the game's first yellow card when Rodney Wallace prevents the quick free kick.
Decent chance for Portland as a long Gonzalez ball is headed back into the box by Scott, and turned goal wards by Eddie Johnson, but the ball bobbles wide of the post. A minute later Johnson is at the byline but can't get a clean cross in.
Portland come up the other end and force a brief pause with a free kick, that Will johnson rather wastes.
Dempsey's corner is cleared again, though said clearances are getting a little more ragged and soon Portland are facing another set piece from a free kick wide right. More chaos in the Portland box before they eventually get clear, and for a second even look like they'll have a two v one break. But they're soon on the back foot again as Seattle press to go in level before half time. Still Seattle 0-1 Portland but the Sounders are pressing...
Alonso looking a little exposed at the moment. Without Yedlin's natural width on the right, the midfielders around Alonso are doing some of the same job by drifting wide, which won't have been missed by Caleb Porter when he directs his players at half time.
On the plus side it means that you have moments like now, where Moffat gets to the byline n the left and forces a corner with a low cross. Corner...
Portland have a free kick just inside the Seattle half. They elect to try and hold possession and build through midfield. But Chara makes a poor pass straight at Alonso.
Some scrappy midfield pin balling ends with Ryan Johnson upending Ossie Alonso, as the Seattle midfielder goes flying over his shoulder competing for a header.
Now boos ring round the stadium as the resultant free kick causes some chaos in the box and Seattle are penalized for Zach Scott holding. Some of their more optimistic fans wanted a penalty for handball.
And I want a jetpack.
Valeri makes a smart run behind Zach Scott, but the Seattle right back does just enough to recover as Valeri tries to get past him again via the bounce of the ball on the artificial turf.
Now Evans pops up in the same spot at the other end of the field and forces another corner off the clearing header. Chara in turn heads that clear (corners not as dangerous-looking as free-kicks so far for Dempsey).
Will Johnson involved at the other end now as he goes in too hard on Moffat and it'll be another free kick to Seattle, central, and further out than the last one (i.e. 29 yards according to the field markings).
Dempsey strikes another decent free kick that curls just over. It was traveling. Ricketts looked to have it covered, but Dempsey has found his range. Still Seattle 0-1 Portland though...
Seattle recovering some momentum after going down a goal and Johnson and Evans combine on the right after some intelligent running by the former. But Portland regain possession via a free kick and almost make a chance for themselves via a series of kindly bounces, that ends when Will Johnson's shot flies high from the edge of the box. it came to him quickly, but he perhaps had time to take a touch and play in a team mate.
Back to the other end and Moffat gets wide left to try and get the cross in. It's blocked but he gets a corner. Inswinger from Dempsey headed clear by Chara than Jewsbury. Gonzalez tries to prod the ball back into the danger area, but it slides all the way through for a goal kick.
Portland attacking again, but then Wallace is penalized for a foul in the build-up and possession will revert to Seattle. Long ball forward is won by an unchallenged Eddie Johnson, but his header can't find anyone.
At the other end Ryan Johnson wins a header in roughly the same position for Portland, but he can't find a red and white shirt either.
Eddie Johnson called offside looking to run onto a through ball. He's been making a nuisance of himself without getting any clear chances yet.
Tod Haggerty, one of our Colorado game previewers drops by, to remark on the field markings (and possibly have one last hurrah before declaring the season well and truly over):
What's more visually disastrous, the field tonight or the second half of the Pids/sounders?
I'll leave that rhetorical question hanging as the Sounders have just earned a free kick just outside the box, with Pah fouling Johnson in a very dangerous position. Dempsey over it...
…and he curls one towards the near post top corner, but Ricketts is alert to it and tips it away at the last minute. Corner is headed clear at the near post again, by Johnson, again. Seattle 0-1 Portland
Johnson back in action with another snapshot from the edge of the box, bt that won't trouble Hahnemann.
At the other end Neagle fashions a shot on the turn, also from distance, but again it's high and wide.
Rope-a-dope! Chara switches play neatly and Jack Jewsbury has way too much space down the right to whip in a cross from the byline that's glanced past a stranded Hahnemann by Ryan Johnson racing to the near post. Portland had only just started to look like they might think about coming out of their shell, and now they have their first lead on a road game against Seattle since 2007...
Dempsey drives a free kick from midway inside the Portland half. It flies across the goal and Traore can't quite get a clean header on it and the ball falls to Ricketts guarding his post.
Portland come forward and Nagbe has a little look at what space might be available. None. he's crowded out on the edge of the box. Portland need a little more possession to pull the Sounders out of position a little more.
Funny that the thought of having the USA's right back taking over as third choice right back might be a problem for Seattle, but Evans has been a potent and intelligent threat going forward. It may be moot, as Scott is back on his feet...
Lamar Neagle gallops forward on a long ball and cuts inside on the edge of the box, but his attempt to curl one into the top corner goes high and wide.
Zach Scott, Yedlin's replacement is currently down on the sidelines after falling awkwardly on a challenge with Rodney Wallace. He looks in some discomfort. Will we see Evans back there at some point as we did in the last game? Seattle 0-0 Portland after ten minutes.
…another out swinger, another block at the near post by Will Johnson. As might be expected Portland having to defend a little early, though Seattle haven't exactly come roaring out of the blocks.
Now Moffat goes on a little wriggling run on the left of the box and drives a ball across that comes off Neagle and gives Evans a half chance near the penalty spot. but his shot down into the turf is straight at Ricketts. The volume rising exponentially every time Seattle have a glimpse of goal. Portland's first task will be to quieten this crowd. No small order.
Ryan Johnson hadn't scored since August before last week, but his goal against Chivas gives him a little confidence to have a go here from distance. The shot goes wide and Portland are back on the defensive in the next sequence as Seattle come forward and force another corner via a long throw into the box. Dempsey will take it...
First attack from Seattle ends in a Brad Evans shot from the edge of the box ricocheting past rickets but past the post as well. He'd found a nice little pocket of space, just as he did in scoring the other night. Seattle corner.
Outswinger from Dempsey nodded clear, but Seattle get possession back and press again, only for Traore to lose it.
Hahnemann gets his first touch on a header back from his defender. no DeAndre Yedlin by the way. He injured himself in a challenge on Deshorn Brown the other night and didn't make the cut.
Portland get an early free kick wide right, which Johnson can float in. He does, but Hahnemann comes out to catch confidently.
We're off. Seattle kick off and
it's returned for a first down at the 40 pass it backwards.
Seattle's ECS fans unfurled a tifo display of a skull and the legend, "Welcome to your nightmare" just before kick off.
Baldomero Toledo is refereeing.
Teams just coming out of the tunnel now. National anthems to be sung, crowd posturing to be done, huddles to be had, NFL field markings to be studiously ignored (I mean, really? REALLY?) and we'll be underway. Tremendous crowd noise.
Yes, and a damned shame it has to share the field with the markings for another American sport. This and the New England game have been visually disastrous ways for MLS playoffs to start.
One of our regular Portland game previewers, Michael Orr, drops by, possibly the wrong side of a Caleb Porter beer:
It's hard to tell. There's a lot of red smoke in here.
Right. Next word you read will be "Peep".
Are these meant to be a warm color-appropriate welcome to the visitors from the Rose City?
...40,000 plus of them supposedly in the stadium tonight. Not bad for three days notice.
Here's one of them pulling a face:
If tonight’s game has a whiff of 1998 about it you can blame the Sounders’ run-in.
We’re going to see the field covered in gridiron markings for the upcoming Seattle Seahawks game — a situation that a grim-faced Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer pointedly feels could have been avoided:
It’s the unfortunate reality of a two professional-team stadium with the timing. We probably could’ve avoided this if we had done a little better job collecting points toward the end of the season.
At least we’ll be spared the sight of Michael Gspurning getting sacked.
New England v Sporting KC just finished 2-1, so television can switch its attention. That scoreline is nicely poised for the second leg (about all that was poised — yellow cards ahoy in that one).
Seattle: Hahnemann; Gonzalez, Traore, Hurtado, Scott; Alonso, Evans, Moffat; Dempsey; Neagle, Johnson
Portland: Ricketts; Harrington, Kah, Danso, Jewsbury; Johnson, Valeri, Chara; Wallace, Johnson, Nagbe So the diamond midfield is retained for the Sounders, though Clint Demspey can expect some closer attention tonight than he got from a Dillon Powers-less Colorado. Probably from Diego Chara.
And watch for how much attention Ossie Alonso pays to Diego Valeri, and in turn just how much space Darlingto Nagbe finds for himself should Alonso get too distracted neutralizing Valeri.
Midfield intrigue, I tell you...
A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Caleb Porter. Shortly afterwards, in what I hope was an unrelated event, I received a giant framed poster for a Portland Beer guest-brewed by Coach Porter, alongside a document touting his credentials for Coach of the Year, both of which I shall treasure forever.
While that’s an admirable show of support for a first year coach, I can’t help feeling that emailing me a copy of the Western Conference table would have done the job equally well. Porter’s done a remarkable job at Portland (earning himself a new multi-year deal in the process) to turn around a team whose dreadful road form was the stuff of legend, just as much as their intimate, raucous home support was celebrated.
They’re versatile, slick when they need to be, and tough when off the ball. If they can hold the team together next year and start turning some of their many draws into wins, they’ll be tough to top. For now, of course, they’re in uncharted territory in the playoffs — and as their opponents tonight can tell them, regular season form is no guarantee of results over 180 minutes.
If anybody wants a nicely framed, slightly damp (looks like rain here) poster vaguely relating to beer and Portland Timbers email me your address and bank account details and I’ll be sure to ensure that the right thing happens. In the meantime, ooh look...goals!
So on Wednesday night, with the Sounders winning, but still in a tight game, Michael Gspurning, the once uber-reliable, recently uber-shaky, goalkeeper for the Seattle Sounders did this:
So just as in the last game between these two sides, Gspurning will be replaced by the veteran Marcus Hahnemann.
Before the October 13th game, Gspurning was dropped after 5-1 and 4-1 defeats to Colorado Rapids and Vancouver Whitecaps — the latter of which was capped by a humiliating Joe Hart special from the keeper in failing to keep out a Nigel Reo-Coker shot. He came back into the team only to look a little dodgy coming for the ball on Wednesday night, and lucky on at least one occasion that the ball bounced his way. It’s possible, just possible, that some Seattle fans are secretly relieved that he’s sitting tonight’s game out.
Here are the highlights of that Seattle v Colorado wild card game, by the way:
Dempsey got a lot of space to do his thing in that diamond midfield. So much space it’s possibly inconclusive to call it a success. But the result was the result...
Elsewhere, in the East, New England Revolution’s artificial turf (a mix of shagpile, thumb tacks and banana skins according to the level of concern about the part it’s apparently going to play in this series) plays host to the Eastern Conference semi-final first leg between the Revs and Sporting KC. Steve Busfield is covering that one, like a boss. It's currently 2-1 to New England, and as far as I can tell, a total hot mess.
Really? You need a preamble? For this one?
Well…ok. Welcome to the first leg of the (checks Guardian stylebook to see if it's permissible to dust off "eagerly anticipated" cliche; nods grimly) eagerly anticipated Western Conference semi-final between Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers. This is kind of a big deal.
Owing to historical ineptitude (Portland) the two have never met in the playoffs before — in fact this is the Timbers' first appearance. And owing to contemporary ineptitude (Seattle) the two are meeting in the conference semis rather than the final after the Sounders crumbled on the run-in. Their games against each other may be one of the great theatrical spectacles of the league, but other than Cascadia Cup bragging rights, they've not always carried huge import for what happens with the rest of the league.
Of late, that's been changing though. Their clash on October 13th helped propel Portland to the top of the West and Seattle to the also-rans, while now the Cascadia rivalry enters a new era as two of its teams (let's discreetly draw a veil over Vancouver shall we?) face off in MLS playoff soccer for the first ever time.
Seattle, of course, are finally winning again. Their fairly comfortable (we'll get to Michael Gspurning…) victory over a rather overawed Colorado Rapids sees them coming into tonight's game hoping that the playoffs are something of a fresh start. Portland meanwhile had been giving themselves very little margin in some of their victories over rivals (including Seattle) of late, but opened up a tub of I Can't Believe it's Not Goals™ in a 5-0 final day win against Chivas USA, to get their own last nagging doubts out of the way before the playoffs start.
This should be rather fun. Tweet your thoughts to @KidWeil or email long form conspiracy theories to email@example.com about why the Guardian's use of a semi-colon indicates a refusal to recognize how good Diego Valeri is, and catch up with what happened the last time these two met. And I'll be back shortly with more build up and team news.