Sounders fans: Still loyal, but hurting
The Seattle Sounders were in Portland on Sunday for the 100th meeting between the teams. Sitting last with just eight points from eight games, they weren't that terrible compared to Portland, which had 11 points from eight games. But another loss for the Sounders would see them lose bragging rights until at least June 30, when the teams meet in Seattle.
At halftime, with the score 0-0, Sounders we talked to were still optimistic.
Peter Rice, in line for the water fountain, said Seattle's problem was "half the team's injured. We have a mountain to climb, but we'll make the playoffs." He believes in the coach, Brian Schmetzer, who led them to the MLS Cup final after taking over in July 2016. "He's Seattle through and through." As for Clint Dempsey, who had a quiet first half, Rice simply stated, "Dempsey always scores against Portland."
A woman who would only give her Emerald City Supporters club stage name, Becca Angell, said in the beer line at halftime that the Sounders' problems this season have been that they have been "riddled with injuries" and the stand-in players are still "having to figure out the chemistry and their routine." She was confident that the Sounders are "starting to build some momentum" and "we'll find our way there," she said of the playoffs. Angell, who works in quality assurance in a furniture design firm in Seattle, said she wasn't worried. "I mean I'm worried, I'm always worried. I don't date between March and October (soccer season). But I won't be worried-worried until July or August."
Zack Neuhaus explained that the Sounders often start slow,
"As long as we hit a good stride midseason and then later, we'll be fine," he said. Of injuries to key players such as Osvaldo Alonso, he said, "I do think some injuries like that are holding us back a bit. Dempsey being suspended a bit (for two games) was also not helpful. The season's not going great right now, but we tend to start slow, so I'm not really worried."
His buddy, Matthew Wood, said he was very confident. "We've had slow starts before, but as the team starts to work though injuries things start to develop. Players like Magnus Wolff Eikrem who have not played a lot can develop a chemistry with Clint Dempsey. If everyone stays healthy this team can become dominant, " Wood said.
Eric Rabet, here from Seattle for the day, blamed injuries. "We've also been waiting for the right player. We've been waiting for that target kind of striker player. It'll be like two years ago when we signed Nicolas Lodeiro halfway through the season. We'll finish strong and end up squeaking into the playoffs."
Mathematically, it could be difficult. "We have to be on Supporters Shield form to make the playoffs. I think we have to average 1.8 points per game," Rbet said of the three points for a win, one for a draw system in MLS.
"I think we just got bitten by the injury bug. We're missing a third of our team."
Seattle parked the bus in front of goal, playing a formation with five defenders and four midfielders that got them a win at Toronto a few days earlier, but they were done in by a late winner (Sebastian Blanco's goal in the 86th minute). It was dire stuff.
Afterward, Sounders fans trickled from the stadium, blinking in the hot sunshine and discussing where to go next.
Sarah Coronado said "we couldn't get our offense going, but I'm really excited about Wolff, I think he brings some new energy to the game. But we got tired. It's hot. I didn't realize it's so hot in Portland."
She and her boyfriend, Joey Graham, live in Tri-Cities in Washington. They met in college, and he lost a bet where he had to attend a Seattle-Portland game wearing a Sounders jersey. "I destroyed it afterward," Graham noted. They have been together for five years.
Blanco had hidden a rubber Chucky mask, from the horror movie doll, behind the goal and pulled it out for his goal celebration. Seattle fans who had once led with a giant tifo reading, "Welcome to your nightmare," saw the nightmare revisit them once again. Even with six minutes of added time, Seattle could not muster an attack, and the whistle blew on another defeat for them.
Sounders fan Ryan Hewitt and his mom had flown in from Arkansas for the game. They stopped on Southwest 20th Avenue to talk.
"We've had lots of injuries the whole year," Hewitt said. "Our front office decided not to buy anyone good during the offseason. We don't have any speed outside (on the wing). Clint Dempsey's really old, and it's not looking good."
It's the same coach as last season. Have the tactics changed?
"We've decided to go to a back five (defenders) the past two games, which we've never done before," Hewitt said. "We're trying to park the bus and defend. It would be successful if we have all our players, out three center backs, but we have backups playing now."
Sisters Ally Pirret and Holly Pirret came from Seattle's Fremont neighborhood for the day.
"I was not excited by the lack of finishing," Holly said. "It's been a combination of injuries and trying to figure out how everyone fits together. I hope they work on that." She added that she had had fun in the stadium singing with her fellow fans. But the soccer was getting frustrating.
"We really need someone to be a finisher," said Ally.
And what about the Deuce, Clint Dempsey?
"I have no answers," she said. "Just a lack of a little something at the end."
With the 1-0 win, the Timbers leaped up to fourth place in the MLS Western Conference, with the Sounders still in 12th (bottom).