The Portland Timbers took down the Seattle Sounders with a 2-1 scoreline Sunday afternoon, first half goals from Kris Boyd and David Horst enough to overcome an Eddie Johnson strike in the second to earn the hosts a first blood victory in the 2012 series of this decades long rivalry.
The atmosphere was tangible as one walked up to the stadium, lines of supporters arriving hours earlier, some before dawn, enveloping the stadium in anticipation of the year’s first Portland-Seattle derby. The Sounder fans were let in first, entering opposite the Timbers Army to keep the opposing groups of diehard supporters as far apart as possible.
From the far corner away from the North End, the visitors had the best view of the giant tifo display that unfurled after the national anthem, a homage to past Portland legend Clive Charles, with the title ‘Legends Are Born When The Previous Are Surpassed’, emblazoned with images of Charles, Cascadia and Portland flags, and a Timbers Army stamp of approval. A fitting start to a derby, another gauntlet thrown down, and it was down to the players to live up to the billing.
The start was chippy, players putting a touch more blood in the tackle, as they say, perhaps former Sounder Mike Fucito start in Portland’s front line evoking even more bite from his one-time Seattle teammates.
Portland had the early opportunity, a Franck Songo’o corner finding the head of David Horst at the far post, who was unlucky to see the ball carom off the crossbar. The rebound fell to captain Jack Jewsbury, but it came too quick and his touch betrayed him as his close range attempt went harmlessly wide of goal.
The chances were a harbinger of things to come, as shortly after a Songo’o backheel freed Steven Smith on the wing, who one-timed his cross square across the box to Boyd. The Scot’s ghosted run in behind Jhon Kennedy Hurtado gave him space inside the box, and he coolly sidefooted past Seattle netminder Andrew Weber into the net in the 16th minute.
Kalif Alhassan was running the Sounders ragged down the flank, consistently beating his man but failing to find a target as he chose searching balls to the far post over open shots on frame. That changed when he found Boyd, who nearly doubled the advantage in the 25th minute, an Alhassan cross picking the striker out unmarked in the center of the box, but Weber did well to parry off the crossbar.
Seattle had dodged a bullet, but before the minute was up, Horst stepped into Songo’o's ensuing corner and made sure of a second goal as he knocked in a header from short range, the towering centerback taking the crossbar out of the equation as he directed the ball off the turf. Portland were rampant as the smoke and celebrations continued to erupt in the stands, Weber looking helpless as his defense left him exposed for a second time in the opening half hour.
Surprisingly, Seattle’s first best chance came from the absentee defense, Jeff Parke getting on the end of a loose ball following a 36th minute corner, but Troy Perkins was there to corral on the line. The Sounders continued to press, but were on the back foot as they were chasing the game well before the interval.
Seattle’s attempts at a first half resurgence were stymied in the 39th minute, Parke picking up a knock and removed in exchange for Patrick Ianni. A forced substitution is never in a manager’s plans, and Sounders gaffer Sigi Schmid was facing selection dilemmas before the break.
Brad Evans provided a ray of hope with a long range effort set up by Fredy Montero minutes later, only to see his strike fly wide of the post. That hope nearly turned to belief in first half injury time, Osvaldo Alonso connecting well from deep to force Perkins to tip over, the danger cleared as the halftime whistle blew seconds later.
As the second half started, Andy Rose came on for Evans for Seattle’s second change, but it wasn’t long before Timbers manager John Spencer was nearly forced into a change of his own, Alhassan pulling up lame as he clutched his hamstring in what appeared an innocuous challenge in the 50th minute. Portland supporters breathed a sigh of relief when he re-entered the proceedings, having been one of Portland’s more influential players thus far.
Alhassan had only been back on the pitch for a moment when Alonso lashed another strike from distance, but again Perkins was there to deny the effort. Alhassan went to ground again, injured in the buildup, and Spencer replaced him with Sal Zizzo in the 54th minute.
Zizzo’s inclusion paid near immediate dividends, bursting down the line and centering to find Songo’o, but the Cameroonian’s first touch allowed Seattle to clear. Before it found safety, Portland recovered possession and Fucito found an opening, but his shot went high.
The miss proved important, as moments later in the 58th minute Johnson came to life, turning Horst with a trademark stepover before lashing the ball into the far corner past the outstretched gloves of Perkins.
The tally revitalized the visitors, but Portland threatened next as Songo’o started a counter that ended with both he and Fucito failing to convert from close range, Seattle doing well to apply pressure in the end.
The mood markedly changed after a dominant Portland in the first half, Seattle’s response illustrating the match was far from over. Spencer looked to regain control of the game by inserting Danny Mwanga for Fucito in the 65th minute, and shortly after the newly signed striker came up just short on Smith’s inviting cross across the box.
The match grew cagey as both teams exchanged half chances, but neither could break through. Seattle earned a free kick in a dangerous area outside the box in the 72nd minute, the foul earning Smith a yellow card. Montero couldn’t capitalize as a tame effort went straight to Perkins, and the chess match tactics continued to play out as Schmid replaced Alex Caskey with Cordell Cato in the 74th minute.
Portland earned a set piece opportunity of their own, and Boyd’s direct strike deflected off Seattle’s Zach Scott and Mwanga, wrongfooting Weber before the goalkeeper did well to put the ball over as he reached back with his glove.
Spencer’s third and final sub came in the 77th, Songo’o exiting for Lovel Palmer to shore up the central midfield as Portland looked to protect their lead as the match wore on. The tactics appeared suspect, given Portland’s tendency to concede late goals, a third goal perhaps more insurance than the slender one goal margin that separated the teams.
To magnify the concern, Sounder midfielder Mauro Rosales got involved late to give the Timbers a scare, a speculative effort in the 87th minute landing on top of Portland’s net as Perkins watched it over.
Zizzo and Montero started to mix things up in the closing minutes, before Jewsbury stepped in to end matters by earning a yellow card for a late challenge on Montero. The handbags came out shortly after, Mamadou ‘Futty’ Danso scrapping with Johnson, and in the ensuing melee the official deemed Montero responsible for the infraction that set it off, seeing straight red for his involvement.
Montero’s departure wasn’t without incident, Johnson continuing to feel aggrieved, and Palmer would suffer the same red card fate for inciting the forward in his moment of despair, injury time ticking down as the Sounders saw the match slip away.
Johnson tried to put away a late chance, his header going well wide, and Rose did better on the next attempt but he put it straight into the arms of Perkins. Perkins cleared one last goal kick, and the official blew for time to hand the Timbers their first ever MLS era victory over their bitter rivals.
The result was a fair one, the Timbers holding onto their early lead while the Sounders fell short after Johnson pulled one back to keep the home side on their toes. The defeat for Seattle is compounded by the loss of Montero, and the Sounders will need to find attacking inspiration elsewhere as they try to break out of a now seven match winless streak.
For Portland, closing out a match against their most storied enemies only makes the victory sweeter, the perfect tonic for the lackluster results that left supporters wanting in recent times.
As the buses head north full of dejected Sounders, Spencer and company will relish the first time they put one over Schmid and Seattle, taking an important early lead in the Cascadia Cup standings.