Public enemy No. 1 (Montero) scores twice to key Seattle win
Everything was set up for it to be a splendid Sunday for the Portland Timbers at Jeld-Wen Field in their ESPN-televised showdown with the archrival Seattle Sounders.
Postcard weather. Packed house. And midway through the second half, a 2-1 lead.
Fairy-tale endings don't seem in the cards these days for the Timbers, who gave up a pair of late goals in a 3-2 loss that runs their Major League Soccer winless streak to seven games.
'If you can't defend, you're not going to win games,' Portland coach John Spencer said. 'Offensively, we did enough. We scored two goals at home. But we keep leaking goals at our own end.'
There was incredible buildup to this matchup, especially after the teams drew 1-1 in Seattle on May 14 and Sounders coach Sigi Schmid - love that name - listed a variety of excuses why the home side didn't emerge victorious.
There is never any love lost between Portland and Seattle, anyway, especially through a soccer rivalry that dates to the '70s. 'It's like Man U vs. Man City, because of the closeness of the two cities,' Timbers radio analyst Ross Smith said, the reference to the British Premier League rivalry between Manchester United and Manchester City.
With Timbers versus Sounders, things can get a little uncivil. Fifteen minutes before Sunday's kickoff, the 500 Seattle fans shoehorned into the Northwest corner at Jeld-Wen offered a vocal obscenity and a single-finger salute in unison to supporters of their rivals.
During the game, the Timbers Army serenaded a Sounders' star with, 'Fredy Montero, No Means No!' In 2009, Montero was charged in a sexual-assault case, though eventually all allegations were dropped for insufficient evidence.
So it was doubly painful when the villainous Montero was the hero of the day, scoring a pair of goals - and coming an eyelash from completing a hat trick - to help the Sounders nail down the somewhat-coveted Cascadia Cup.
'All the game, I hear what they say,' said the 5-9, 160-pound native Colombian, who had scored only three goals in his first 17 games. 'But my job is to play for Seattle Sounders. I have many fans to support me and be behind me. I feel really happy in this stadium, and so proud to play here.'
Montero seemed particularly proud of scoring his first goal to even the score at 1-1 early in the second half. He ripped off his shirt, raced to the corner of the pitch in front of the Seattle fans and hot-dogged it, blowing kisses to the sky.
Removing the jersey earned the Sounders' bantie rooster an automatic yellow card, so facing ejection when he scored again in the 74th minute to tie the count at 2-2, the shirt stayed on. I was afraid for a moment he might shed his shorts, but thank God he thought better of it.
Seattle's fluorescent yellow uniforms, incidentally, rank with the hot dog brown and mustard yellow togs of the San Diego Padres in the late '70s and early '80s as the ultimate sports team fashion misstatements. But I digress.
All five goals were scored during a frenzied second half that was both entertaining and dramatic. Members of the Timbers Army - loyal if nothing else - were still standing, cheering, chanting and waving flags even after the disappointing finish.
Spencer was asked if the loss hurts a bit more than others, given the circumstances.
'It does, to be honest with you,' the first-year Portland coach said. 'To get beat by your biggest rivals at home when you score two goals and go ahead twice ... it's unacceptable. Play like we did defensively, you're going to get punished, and (the Sounders) punished us.'
Seattle (9-4-8) is in second place in the Western Conference and in great shape to make the playoffs, which will include the top three teams from each conference and four wild-card clubs.
Portland, meanwhile, drops to 5-9-3 at the midway point of its inaugural MLS season. The Timbers, 0-5-2 on the road, face a schedule that has 10 of their final 17 matches away from home. Reaching the postseason isn't out of the question, but a turnaround will have to begin, well, now.
The Timber players' 'confidence is low a little bit,' Spencer allowed, 'but I don't think anybody feels sorry for us or Vancouver as the two expansion teams.'
Spencer noted the intense Jeld-Wen atmosphere but lamented that his lads weren't able to take full advantage. Opponents, he said, get an adrenaline rush from the spirited scene, too.
'Everybody wants to play here,' he said. 'It gives (opposing) teams a great lift when they come and see the environment. It gets them up for us.
'You can use the homefield advantage when you're playing well. When things aren't going so well, you can't wait for (teammates) to react and do something for you.'
Before the game, hopeful members of the Timbers Army displayed an enormous banner that read, 'The King of Clubs,' trusting that their side would fill the bill.
On this day, as on too many days this season, the Timbers were something closer to the Queen of Spades.