Photo by Jane Gershovich/JaneG. Photography
By JASON MITCHELL
SEATTLE — Unfortunately for the Portland Timbers, the Seattle Sounders are just about unbeatable when they open up their entire stadium.
In the 86th installment of a rivalry spanning five decades and six leagues, Seattle received second-half goals from Clint Dempsey and Marco Pappa on Sunday night, earning a 2-0 win over the Timbers in front of 64,207 at CenturyLink Field.
With the victory, the Sounders are now 10-0-3 when drawing at least 40,000 fans.
“Our crowd is fantastic,” said Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid. “We enjoy playing here. I think the crowd pushes them on, they don’t want to disappoint those people. As an athlete you just rise above yourself a little bit.”
After a sluggish start for both teams, Seattle peppered Portland’s goal throughout the second half, finally breaking through with less than 20 minutes to play.
With the match scoreless in the 71st minute, Dempsey got on the end of a one-hopping long distance attempt from Gonzalo Pineda and managed to slap a shot past Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts even while falling to the ground.
Only moments earlier Ricketts delivered a pair of stunning stops, first denying Dempsey with a foot save before somehow stuffing Obafemi Martins point blank at the opposite post.
Scoring in his return from World Cup duty, Dempsey now leads the Sounders with nine goals in just 10 appearances. Pineda—an unheralded acquisition signed just days before the start of the season—is tied for the team lead with six assists.
Pappa added the insurance goal in the 86th minute. The 26-year-old Guatemalan found himself in acres of space as he stepped into a Lamar Neagle cross toward the penalty spot and easily beat Ricketts for the 2-0 lead.
Will Johnson launched a free kick from a dangerous spot in the 84th minute, but sent a shot over the wall and directly to goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
Dempsey nearly added a third goal in the waning moments of regulation, volleying a Michael Azira cross off the frame.
For a much hyped and nationally-televised match, the opening 45 minutes were a surprisingly cagey, even tepid affair. The two teams combined for just two corners and one shot on target in the entire first half.
That all changed quickly after halftime, as Seattle pushed its fullbacks forward and played more directly. Schmid also inserted Martins into the game for Chad Barrett in the 51st minute.
“One of the thought processes for me,” said Schmid, “was wanting to get (Martins) onto the field earlier than I normally sub, because when (Martins) is on the field he and Clint have such a good understanding together.”
Seattle proceeded to outshoot the Timbers 18-5 in the second half alone, forcing Ricketts into eight saves.
“I thought (Martins) changed the game,” said Johnson. “It really gave us a lot of problems when he and Dempsey went up top. It was a tough matchup, so we did our best to contain them, but eventually they broke us down.”
Seattle also knocked the Timbers out of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in an overtime match on Wednesday. Timbers head coach Caleb Porter at least partially blamed fatigue from that match for his team’s second-half struggles.
“I think our back line just looked like they were tired,” Porter said, “and you can’t be tired running against Dempsey and Martins. And Dempsey proved why he’s one of the best players in our country and scored a couple of goals in the World Cup.”
Neither Dempsey nor Martins played in the Open Cup match, although eight other Seattle starters did.
With the victory, the Sounders (12-4-2, 38 points) moved seven points ahead of D.C. United in the early race for the Supporters’ Shield. Seattle has also won three of its last four matches.
Schmid, for one, said he isn’t paying attention to the standings yet.
“I don’t even look,” he said. “I just look at our own points and I’m happy to see us continue to get points.”
The Timbers (4-6-9, 21 points) have now gone four matches without a win. Expected by many to contend for both the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup, Portland currently sits outside the playoff picture entering the second half of the season.
“We’ve seen the table,” Porter said, “and it’s a bit like Pulp Fiction—everybody is killing everybody—so I’m not sure what the line is going to be with regards to the points that get you in. You can’t worry about that. You just have to focus on every game trying to get three points, and if you don’t, try and get the next one.”
Looking forward, Portland hosts the Colorado Rapids (7-5-6, 26 points) on Friday. The Sounders host Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League in a friendly on Sunday before the Los Angeles Galaxy (6-3-6, 24 points) visit on July 28.
Here are the match highlights: