Needing a win in the worst way, the Seattle Sounders did not turn in a performance befitting their dire straits. They did, however, get the result they needed, securing a 2-1 victory over the Portland Timbers on Sunday in front of a crowd of 64,358.
The win puts the Sounders back into playoff position, equal on points with seventh-place San Jose but holding the wins tiebreaker. The three points also puts the Sounders just two points out of fourth and three points out of third.
Once again, it was Obafemi Martins who made sure the Sounders got off to the start they absolutely needed, scoring his 10th goal in the 7th minute. Tyrone Mears started the sequence when he found Nelson Haedo Valdez with a well-placed over-the-top pass to get behind the defense. Valdez had to check his run to control the pass, though, and his attempt to find the trailing runner was intercepted by the Timbers defense.
But the Timbers were unable to clear the danger, and soon enough the ball was loose in the box with Martins in the vicinity. Somehow, he managed to end up with a decent look despite being surrounded by three defenders. He buried the chance and followed it up with his trademark backflips.
Any momentum the Sounders had was quickly gone as the Timbers seized control of the match. It was only the play of Stefan Frei that kept the Sounders in the lead.
Frei, who had his best game since returning from injury, first stopped a point-blank header from Jack Jewsbury in the 18th minute. Frei then dove to stop an open shot from the edge of the box from Diego Valeri in the 25th. Frei's biggest save came in the 29th when he and Mears appeared to miscommunicate, allowing Lucas Melano to pick up the loose ball and get a one-on-one chance. But Frei came off his line to make a sprawling save, keeping it 1-0.
The Timbers were ruing those missed chances in the 42nd minute. That's when Mears put a ball over the top to Martins, who was able to get the first touch and then ran into Timbers goalkeeper Adam Kawarsey. It was a questionable penalty, but Brad Evans was only too happy to convert.
Jewsbury eventually got the Timbers on the board when he got free on a free kick and easily slotted it into the net.
The Sounders had a couple decent looks at a potential insurance goal, but were mostly forced to defend in numbers as the Timbers pressed hard for an equalizer. Their final chance came in the 93rd minute when Diego Valeri lined up a free kick from about 22 yards out. His shot deflected off the wall and harmlessly out. It was the game's final play.
- This looked very much like a team that hasn't had much time to play together. There were miscommunications all over the defense and midfield, creating several dangerous chances for the Timbers. The good news is that they still managed to hold it together long enough to grab three points they needed in the worst possible way.
- Frei was an absolute beast. He didn't have to make many saves in the second half, but he was constantly coming off his line to claim crosses and absolutely commanded his area. This was the Frei who looked like the favorite to win Goalkeeper of the Year early in the season.
- The Sounders still face a somewhat uphill battle in order to qualify for the playoffs. But at least now they have several targets. One of the Sounders, FC Dallas, Sporting Kansas City, the Timbers and Earthquakes are going to miss the playoffs. Mathematically, that team is probably most likely the Sounders, but this win at least puts their chances into coin-toss territorry.