After the ball lands perfectly at his feet, Alhassan delivers the shot that beats Seattle
The Portland Timbers accomplished everything they could have wanted Sunday night.
Before an announced sellout crowd of 20,674 at Jeld-Wen Field, the Timbers thoroughly dominated the rival Seattle Sounders in a 1-0 win on the strength of Kalif Alhassans 45th-minute goal.
It was one of those days where we knew we were going to win the game, Timbers coach Caleb Porter said. We dodged some bullets, but I knew we were going to win.
"When you believe that you can win the games, you put yourself in the position to win these games.
The win put Portland (13-5-15, 53 points) in first place in the MLS Western Conference.
The Timbers have yet to officially clinch one of the five West playoff spots Portland needs 54 points or for the sixth-place San Jose Earthquakes (13-11-10, 47 points) to lose one of their final two matches, against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Oct. 20 or FC Dallas on Oct. 26.
But the Timbers are excellent position to be one of the top three clubs in the conference, which would mean that they play home-and-home opening playoff matches.
The fourth and fifth seeds in the conference will play in a one-match, single elimination contest.
Also, the Timbers are tied with the New York Red Bulls (15-9-8, 53 points) for the best record in the league.
As it stands now, though, the Red Bulls would clinch the Supporters Shield based on the tiebreaker system, which first looks at the number of wins a team has, then goes to goal differential and then to goals scored.
Were feeling good about our situation, Timbers defender Jack Jewsbury said. At the beginning of the year, if you had said with two games to go wed be at the top of the table, wed take it. But weve still got work to do. The job isnt done yet.
About the only negative from the night was that the Timbers were unable to defend last seasons Cascadia Cup trophy, though Portland knew that going into the match.
The fan-created competition between Portland, Seattle and the Vancouver Whitecaps goes to the Whitecaps (2-1-3, 9 points) in head-to-head matches this season. Portland (1-1-4, 7 points) and Seattle (2-2-1, 7 points) tied for second.
The Timbers began their domination of Sunday's late-season match in the first half, controlling .551 of the possession.
As the half progressed, Portland began turning its possession into scoring opportunities. The Timbers finished the first half with nine shots, including seven after the 33rd minute. Seattle (15-11-6, 51 points) managed only five shots in the half.
On the final shot of the half, Alhassan sent Portland to the locker room up 1-0.
Jewsbury took the ball on the right side and lobbed a service pass into the box, intending to send it to Jose Adolfo Valencia. The Timbers striker leaped but could not get to the pass. The ball went over Valencias head and bounced off a Sounders defender, directly to Alhassan on the left side of the 18-yard box.
With the ball at his feet, Alhassan fired, sending it past Seattle goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann and into the back of the net.
I was there, Alhassan said. They hit the ball to me, and it was a one-time shot.
The Timbers continued dominating in the second half. The Timbers finished the match with .487 of the possession, but Portland outshot Seattle 15-11. Both clubs put three balls on goal.
The game also featured a near-melee between the clubs in the 73rd minute.
Things got started when Sounders defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado was whistled for a hard tackle on Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe.
After the play, Portland's Will Johnson who has a reputation for forcing opponents to lose their temper began talking to the referees and Sounders players. Seattle midfielder Osvaldo Alonso appeared to have heard enough. He threw an elbow at Johnson, and it just managed to graze the face of the Timbers midfielder. Johnson put on an Academy Award-worthy performance, falling to the ground as if he had been hit by Mike Tyson.
After the elbow, there was a lot of pushing and shoving between the sides before the referees finally separated them. The end result was a yellow card for Hurtado for the foul on Nagbe and a red card for Alonso for the elbow.
I just took an elbow, Johnson said. You know, two guys competing, going at it and in the referees eyes, he crossed the line.
Johnson denied taking a WWE-esque dive.
You get hit in the face, you usually take a step back, he said.
Seattle tried to throw numbers forward for the rest of the match, but with Portland paying with a man advantage, the Timbers were able to stop Seattle from finding the equalizer.
Portland will finish its season with a home match against Real Salt Lake on Saturday and a road match against Chivas USA on Oct. 26.
The playoffs will be on the line. But Porter said he won't how the Timbers go about their job.
Every game is important, Porter said. I dont want to sound like a broken record, but every game were going for three points. Weve followed a process where its business as usual.
"Training prepares you for the game. Were locked in. We know were two games away from doing something special, but were going to focus on Salt Lake now.