PORTLAND — The Seattle Sounders’ free fall that started in mid-September finally hit bottom Thursday.
Seattle’s fifth Major League Soccer season came to an end with a 3-2 loss to arch-rival Portland. The result gave the Timbers a 5-3 aggregate-score win in the series and sends them on to the Western Conference finals against Real Salt Lake.
On Sept. 13, a Sounders victory over Real Salt Lake sent them to the top of the MLS standings. That also proved to be the final win of the regular season for Seattle, which closed with an 0-4-3 tumble to fourth place in the West.
The Sounders opened the postseason with a 2-0 home win over Colorado in the knockout round, but then lost. 2-1, at home to the Timbers in the first leg and gave up the first three goals Thursday at sold out Jeld-Wen Field.
“We didn’t play well in the first half,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “I thought they closed us down, put pressure on us, we didn’t play forward. I thought we lost the game in midfield. Second half, when we switched into a 3-5-2, I thought it was better. … We got two back (late), but overall I think they were a better team than us tonight.”
The Timbers had promised to try to win the second leg rather than just protect their one-goal advantage, and they were true to their word.
Portland dominated over the first 25 minutes with at least five good chances.
The Timbers got on the scoreboard in the 29th minute on a penalty kick by Will Johnson, after Seattle defender Djimi Traore was whistled for a hand ball in the penalty area.
Portland added to that just before halftime, when Diego Valeri got free in the area and beat goalkeeper Michael Gspurning to the far post.
The second half had hardly begun before Portland added to that, this time with Mamadou Danso heading in a goal from close range.
Seattle rallied for two late goals, from DeAndre Yedlin in the 74th minute and on an Eddie Johnson header one minute later. Clint Dempsey got a good chance in the 88th minute, but when the ball went awry the Sounders’ chances went with it.
“The goal before halftime, the goal after halftime were what killed us,” Schmid said. “But hats off to them. They were much better than us.”
One reason cited for Seattle’s late-season collapse was difficulty getting a regular lineup on the pitch, and that continued Thursday.
While the Timbers went with the same lineup that started the first leg, Schmid penciled out his 36th lineup in league 37 games. The most notable change had Shalrie Joseph starting at forward, alongside Johnson. Marc Burch also started at left back in place of the injured Leo Gonzalez, and Gspurning returned as starting goalkeeper after missing the first leg on red-card suspension.
“With the changes in the lineup game in and game out we were never … able to get the roles down: this is what your role is, this is what your role is,” Schmid said. “The roles for people were changing.”
Seattle is 1-5 in MLS playoff series, being eliminated in the conference semifinals every season except 2012, when they made it to the conference finals.
It was their second consecutive season without a trophy – they were eliminated in the semifinals of CONCACAF Champions League and lost their opening match in U.S. Open Cup.
Schmid said he expects personnel changes to be made before next season, but said that he wants to return as coach.
General manager Adrian Hanauer declined to speak to media after the match.