By JASON MITCHELL
SEATTLE, Wash. – The Seattle Sounders capitalized on an electric atmosphere and a Portland Timbers' own goal Sunday night at CenturyLink Field, topping their fierce Interstate 5 rivals 3-0 to assume third place in the Western Conference.
In a nationally-televised match before a franchise-record 66,452 fans, Seattle (14-7-10) controlled play from the start, earning three corner kicks in the first 10 minutes and creating chances through both build-up play and quick counter-attacks.
It was enough to make Sounders' coach Sigi Schmid emotional after the match.
"I said to (assistant coach Brian Schmetzer), 'This is what heaven must feel like.' In my imagination of heaven, this is it: Packed house, beating Portland by three, fans going crazy. You can't get better than this."
If Schmid was in heaven, he got there with a little help from the Timbers.
In the 25th minute, mounting Seattle pressure yielded the evening's first goal when officials credited Mamadou "Futty" Danso with an own-goal after he fought Fredy Montero to get on the end of a sharp one-touch pass from Adam Johansson. On replay it appeared the ball ricocheted off Danso and into the net.
Just three minutes later a beautiful Brad Evans cross found Eddie Johnson completely unmarked in the penalty area. Johnson easily scored past a helpless Donovan Ricketts for his 14th goal of the season and the 2-0 lead.
Johnson credited the goal to improving chemistry with his new teammates.
"I think we're starting to gel," Johnson said, "especially Fredy and I. I think we're combining more, and we're starting to build that relationship that Sigi talked about at the beginning of the year."
Only Rickett's fingertip save on a 32nd-minute Montero long-distance rocket kept the score 2-0 at the half.
"We were playing pretty well," said Portland coach Gavin Wilkinson, "then we went through a 10-minute spell there where we scored an own goal and then never recovered. It was a shame because there was some decent football being played until that point and we dug a big, big hole for ourselves. The back line lost its shape and we were lucky not to be down 3-0 at the half."
Montero put the game away in the 62nd minute, sliding to toe-in a ball a diving Jack Jewsbury tried to clear across the face of the goal. Initially ruled Portland's second own-goal of the match, officials later credited the goal to Montero—his career best 13th of the season.
"They beat us to a lot of balls," said Portland defender David Horst. "They beat us to a lot of balls in our own box and scored. We're not going to win games when we play like that."
In a rivalry that dates back to 1975, the Timbers (7-16-9) had occasional moments, but a lack of vision and imagination killed numerous half-chances. With only one away game remaining, the Timbers—now 0-12-4 away from the friendly confines of Jeld-Wen Field—are threatening to become just the fifth team in league history to go winless on the road.
For the Sounders, the win is just their second league victory since August, a stretch that saw the struggle to a 1-1-3 league record and slip from Supporters' Shield contender to fourth in the Western Conference.
The result also means the Cascadia Cup hinges on Portland's' Oct. 21 trip to Vancouver. Portland would win the fan-sponsored competition with a victory, while a Vancouver win or a tie would make Seattle repeat champions.
Regardless of the Cup's outcome, it was a special night in Seattle for Schmid, who starred in an enornmous tifo displayed before the game.
"I felt very honored the fans did that," Schmid said as his voice broke a little. "It was a little bit emotional for me. But I was really proud of that. This club has been the best thing that's happened to me in soccer, and I'm thankful every day that I'm here."
- The Sounders next play on Oct. 17, hosting Real Salt Lake in a matchup rife with playoff implications. Seattle trails Salt Lake by three points for second-place in the Western Conference with three matches to play and a game in-hand.
- Portland is off until traveling to Vancouver to play the Whitecaps on Oct. 21
- Seattle defender Leo Gonzalez left the match late with what Schmid said the team initially believes to be a slight hamstring strain.