The Seattle Sounders fell to the Portland Timbers 2-0 Friday night in a less-than-auspicious preseason match that raises more questions than anyone may want to answer 10 days before the start of the Major League Soccer season.
Jorge Perlaza scored the first goal in the 21st minute and Kenny Cooper added a second in the final minute of second-half stoppage time.
For the 3,500 avid supporters packing Starfire Stadium, the match kicked off the inaugural Cascadia Cup rivalry among Seattle, Portland and Vancouver. And if Friday was any indication, brace for the real thing. These derby matches will only intensify as the Cascadia teams meet in the regular season.
For the Sounders, though, they have to answer some questions.
It was a preseason game and some players went 90 minutes for the first time. But the Sounders failed to finish numerous scoring opportunities. Their final pass lacked vigor and direction. The forwards — Fredy Montero, Blaise Nkufo and right winger Alvaro Fernandez — didn’t attack the ball inside the 18-yard box. And most irritating to coach Sigi Schmid: the defense allowed two soft goals.
“Really ticked at the last goal we gave up and the first goal I thought was a soft goal,” Schmid said. “That was one we shouldn’t have given up, but it is what it is. I thought the second half was better than the first. We created chances, obviously didn’t score, so that’s disappointing.”
Both teams started nervously. Neither side played particularly well as they adjusted to the throbbing noise and narrow field. But Portland showed more energy, aggressively closing down Seattle’s main scoring threats with smart double teams — particularly against Steve Zakuani on the left wing, Fernandez on the right and Montero in the middle.
Portland’s defense remained organized and forced Seattle to drop the ball back to the defense as they probed for an opening forward or through the flanks. But it wasn’t clicking well for the Sounders in the first half.
Even so, Seattle created some moments. Nkufo got free on a breakaway in the 11th minute but his shot from 18 yards was deflected by a Portland defender. Montero’s header on the rebound missed wide of the frame.
Fernandez had a pair of close misses He got free in the middle of the box in the 33rd minute, eluding his defender and flicked a header that missed wide of the far post. In the 55th minute, Zakuani sent a low cross into the box that fell to Fernandez in front of the goal but he popped his close-range shot over the crossbar.
Portland created fewer scoring opportunities but capitalized when it counted. Portland attacked the flanks and it paid off when Sal Zizzo streaked down the right side, crossed it to Cooper, who shot it low and hard at Kasey Keller, who fumbled the ball and Perlaza tapped it in.
“We beat a good team tonight but we cant get too carried away,” Timbers coach John Spencer said. “We put the work rate and the effort in and this is what you get. Talent alone is not enough in the modern game. Youve got to have that desire to get there and win your individual battles, and I thought tonight weve done that.”
Seattle picked up the pace in the second half. They outshot the Timbers 18 to 7 overall and should have stuffed one in the net. Their movement and passing was much sharper and filled with purpose and connection. Zakuani began to find openings down the left flank but also started cutting inside. He gave defenders all kinds of fits.
Swedish midfielder Erik Friberg entered in the 69th minute for Fernandez, who didn’t have a particularly stellar performance, and the Swede’s vision and touch helped to spread the ball around and open Portland’s middle.
And while the Sounders pressed and picked up their work rate, they still weren’t playing as fluidly as they can. They gave up balls, made errant passes, struggled with timing their runs and connecting with teammates.
“We dominated the second half and they were depending on the long ball with Kenny Cooper,” Zakuani said. “We’re getting there. We moved the ball pretty well in the second half. We need to be better in our box and better in their box as well. No one is going to panic.”
Portland sat back in the second half and waited for its moment to unleash a counter attack. They weren’t nearly as effective as they were in the first half, sending many long balls to either Cooper or Perlaza who found themselves as the sole striker most of the times and ineffectual. But their patience paid off when Cooper broke away in stoppage time to nick the second goal.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” Schmid said. “I don’t like losing and I don’t think anybody in that locker room likes losing. I’m sure the Portland fans will have nice happy drive home tonight. I’m disappointed for our fans.
“It’s preseason,” he said. “What’s important is we finish our chances when the season starts but we’ve got to bury our chances at practice, and bury chances at practice games.”
Up next is the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday at Starfire Stadium.