'Giant step forward': With nothing to lose, Timbers don't, as set piece sets up draw with Sounders
SEATTLE - The Portland Timbers came to Qwest Field to face archrival Seattle with their share of problems on the road.
Though perfect in MLS matches at home, the Timbers were 0-3-1 on the road, collecting a draw with the New England Revolution.
Some of those matches showed the Timbers at their lowest - nine goals allowed by a soft defense and only two goals scored with uninspired attacking.
Basically, on the road, the Timbers had hit nearly rock bottom.
'We can't lose anything,' Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins said, of Saturday's match with Seattle. 'For us, we've been on the road and done just about as bad as you can do.'
There's nothing to lose and we wanted to come up here and prove a point and all the guys were committed to doing that.'
While Saturday's result against the Sounders FC may not have been an exclamation point, the Timbers did prove a point.
And they gained a point in the standings, taking Seattle to a 1-1 draw before a crowd of 36,593 - the largest crowd to ever attend a MLS game at the home shared by the NFL Seattle Seahawks.
'We felt we were unlucky not to take three points, and the guys were a little disappointed,' Timbers coach John Spencer said, adding that before the match, he would have been happy to leave Seattle with a draw.
'A point on the road is not a bad thing, you know?' Spencer said. 'If you steal points on the road, you win a couple and you win your home games, you've got a chance of getting to where we want to be, and that's the playoffs.'
The Timbers (4-3-2, 14 points) began the match by pressing the ball up the pitch. They controlled the pace and the tempo, sending several balls into the Sounders' 18-yard-box.
'We pushed the game from the get-go,' midfielder Jack Jewsbury said. 'We wanted to come out strong in the first 15 minutes and try to put them on their heels. We did that, and we had a couple of chances right off the bat.'
Portland striker Kenny Cooper had the best chances for the Timbers. In the first 20 minutes, Cooper had two open looks at goal, but he sent both shots straight to Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
'I'm always going to be disappointed when a shot doesn't hit the back of the net, but you just keep going and hope that the next one does,' Cooper said.
Just before halftime, Seatte's Fredy Montero lined up for a free kick from 28 yards. Montero hit an almost perfect ball. It sailed over the wall of Timbers and caught Perkins off guard. The ball went just wide to the right, though, and the clubs went into halftime scoreless.
The near-goal seemed to turn the momentum the way of Seattle (3-3-5, 14 points). The Sounders came out with guns blazing in the second half. They attacked the goal hard, exposing holes in the Timbers' back line.
'They're going to come out with intensity,' Portland defender Eric Brunner said. 'We weathered it a little bit.'
Not for long, though.
In the 52nd minute, Seattle soccer veteran Roger Levesque dribbled along the right side before sending a cross to Montero. Brunner left Alvaro Fernandez, who he was marking, to play the ball. Levesque changed the direction of the ball by flipping a header to Fernandez on the left side. Fernandez played the ball off his chest, brought it to the ground and quickly sent a left-footed shot between the near post and a diving Perkins.
'Both defenders were going for the same ball,' Perkins said. 'It was a miscommunication and the ball just fell right to him and he was in.'
After the goal, the Timbers began to raise the level of their attacking Seattle.
'The good thing was we regrouped,' Spencer said. 'We showed a lot of nerve to come back tonight. A lot of character.'
In the 65th minute, Portland got what it needed. Jewsbury lined up for a free kick in the middle of the pitch, 30 yards from the goal.
Before the match, Sounders coach Sigi Schmid had talked about how dangerous Portland is with Jewsbury behind the ball on set pieces. His fears were about to turn into reality.
'I try to put the ball in a good spot and let guys get on the end of it,' Jewsbury explained. 'And they've done a great job of getting open, getting space and getting their head on it. '
Jewsbury hit this free kick into the box, and the Sounders failed to stay with 6-3 defender Mamadou 'Futty' Danso. Keller, the 41-year-old who starred half a life ago for the University of Portland, tried to punch the ball out, but 'Futty' had position on him. With Keller on Danso's back, the Gambian native sent in a header for the equalizer.
'I would give the credit to Jack,' Danso said. 'He hits a great ball every time, and we just have to get behind it. I was just brave to get in there. Eric Brunner screened my man. It's something we've been working on. I didn't feel anybody coming with me. Obviously, I'm just going to go and it's going to be me and Kasey Keller.'
The Timbers will return home to play the Columbus Crew on Saturday, May 12 (8 p.m., Jeld-Wen Field).
The questions about Portland's ability to play well on the road may not be completely erased, but Spencer believes the club can use the draw as a stepping stone.
'We take a lot of confidence and a lot from the game,' Spencer said. 'We've come up here, four months old, five months old as a team. We've taken a giant step forward. We just have to show that belief that that we have at home on the road. We showed that tonight.
'Everybody connected with the Timbers tonight, whether it's here or down in Portland, must be proud of these guys.'