None of the Seattle Sounders even hinted that they played a beautiful game Sunday, and none of them seemed to care.
The Sounders topped Portland, 2-1, and were rewarded in the MLS standings. In a neck-and-neck race down the stretch of this regular-season, that was enough.
“The most important thing is we got three points,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “Sometimes you’ve got to find your way back into rhythm and confidence just through hard work, and today was hard work. I don’t think it was beauty.”
Portland coach Caleb Porter clearly didn’t, either.
“They had nothing,” he said. “I can’t even remember one time during the game when they broke us down. Their high-powered, big-budget team had trouble.”
Still, the Sounders improved to 12-13-2 and climbed back into a tie for the sixth and final playoff position in the Western Conference. Portland dropped to 11-9-7 — two points clear of Seattle.
However, the result sent Seattle to the top of the Cascadia Cup standings, one point ahead of Vancouver. Those teams will settle the Northwest championship Sept. 19 in British Columbia. The Timbers were eliminated from contention.
“Everybody came out fighting from minute one,” Seattle captain Brad Evans said. “There wasn’t one guy who you kind of had to yell at to get them going.”
The match was played before a crowd of 64,358 at CenturyLink Field — the largest in MLS this season and the fourth-largest in Sounders history.
Seattle jumped ahead in the sixth minute when Timbers defender Nat Borchers misplayed a ball in front of his goal and the Sounders kept it alive until Obafemi Martins sent it inside the far post.
The lead doubled just before halftime when Martins streaked after a ball in the penalty area and collided with goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey. Referee Alan Kelly ruled a foul on Kwarasey for a careless challenge; however, he didn’t show a red card, later explaining that Martins’ distance from the ball failed to constitute a clear goal-scoring opportunity. Evans nailed the penalty kick.
“The first goal was a great effort put in: (Nelson) Valdez and others scraping out the ball and then Oba jumps on the ball and scores,” Schmid said. “And the second goal, we felt we could get behind them and Oba makes a hard run and sacrifices himself and draws the penalty kick.”
Portland halved the lead in the 58th minute when Jack Jewsbury finished a corner kick from Diego Valeri. But the equalizer never came, in large part because of five saves by Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
Portland outshot the Sounders, 20-6, putting six on target to Seattle’s three.
“It was more nerve-wracking for me in the second half because they put so much pressure on us,” Frei said. “… But (centerbacks Chad Marshall and Roman Torres) had a couple of really big interceptions for us.”
The Sounders also were sparked by the return of several players. Midfielder Osvaldo Alonso played the final 24 minutes, his first appearance since injuring a hamstring Aug. 1. Midfielder Marco Pappa got his first start since completing a league-mandated substance-abuse-prevention program. And Chad Barrett returned to the game-day roster, also back from a hamstring.
Schmid said forward Clint Dempsey almost returned from a hamstring of his own. However, he was held out with hopes that he will return Saturday when Toronto FC visits.
Before the match, the U.S. national team announced Dempsey will be called in for the Sept. 8 friendly against Brazil, but Schmid said he will continue discussions with national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
“We said we’d talk during this week and we’ll see where he’s at,” Schmid said. “It’s probably difficult for me to imagine him putting in a shift for us against Toronto, or a longer shift and being able to turn around three days after coming off the injury and play again.”
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808