PORTLAND, Ore. — Losing 2-1 to your biggest rival in a playoff game is far from ideal, but the Seattle Sounders find themselves in the not entirely-awful position of heading into the second leg of the Western Conference semifinals knowing that a reasonable result at home can send them through.
The biggest positive the Sounders will bring home is the comfort of a road goal. Raúl Ruidíaz’s 10th minute strike means the Sounders would go through with a result as straight forward as 1-0 on Thursday.
The biggest negative — probably more than the scoreline — is that both Cristian Roldan and Chad Marshall were forced out of the game due to injury. Given the short turnaround, it seems unlikely that either will be fit to start the second leg.
“The all-important road goal”
- I definitely think the value of a single road goal can be overstated, but it gives the Sounders some hope going into the second leg. More than any inherit statistical advantage it might give them, there’s a psychological boost that the Sounders get by knowing they can score. They also generated the better of the scoring chances in the second half, which should give them more hope of scoring a couple in the second leg.
This is why you want the second leg at home
- I won’t try to convince you that a 2-1 loss is anything like a positive result, but it’s not anything like a disaster either. Since the Sounders joined MLS in 2009, there have been seven lower-seeds to win the first leg of their series by just one goal while allowing an away goal. In five of those series, the higher seed came back to advance.
- MLS implemented the away-goals tiebreaker in 2014. Since then, 3 of 4 higher seeds have advanced in that situation. The Sounders have been on been on both sides of that, blowing their 2-1 lead against FC Dallas in 2015 and holding it against the Colorado Rapids in 2016.
- The Sounders have never overturned a first leg deficit, but they are 5-0-1 when hosting the second leg of a playoff series; five of those results would have been good enough to at least get this series to extra time.
The calls weren’t kind
- I don’t think either call was some sort of gross miscarriage of justice, but it should probably be noted that the game’s two biggest calls — or non-calls — went against the Sounders. The first was in the 6th minute when Roldan was taken down in the box by Jeff Attinella. Although Ted Unkel took a closer look, it always seemed unlikely that he would see something compelling enough to change his initial call. Similarly, Jeremy Ebobsise was probably a few inches offside on Portland’s first goal. But VAR is designed to only overturn “clear and obvious” referee mistakes; without the aid of computer-generated lines, I was not expecting that to be taken off the board.
In the 6th minute, Roldan was taken down in the box when Attinella missed the ball. But despite referee Ted Unkel looking at the play on VAR, it was not ruled a penalty.
No call. pic.twitter.com/b67KHkhYPH— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) November 4, 2018
Perhaps more concerning than the non-call was the injury Roldan suffered. Although he remained in the game long enough to assist on Ruidiaz’s goal, he was forced out in the 29th minute.
November 4, 2018
The goal actually seemed to spark the Timbers, who grabbed the equalizer in the 17th minute when Diego Valeri put Ebobsise in behind the defense. Ebobsise was able to chip it over an on-rushing Frei.
Three touches is all it took. #OnwardRoseCity #RCTID @Audi #MLSCupPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/HCbNMjh1rX— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) November 4, 2018
It went from bad to worse rather quickly. First, Roldan came out with a groin injury. Before his replacement could even get on the field, the Timbers stormed ahead on a Sebastian Blanco goal. The sequence started when Kim Kee-hee’s attempted clearance hit off Valeri, who was able to retain control. Chad Marshall recovered well enough to stop the initial attack, but his clearance fell to Blanco, who beat Frei to the far post.
Unlucky bounces and poor defense. Timbers up 2-1 in the 30th. pic.twitter.com/kxzBxciIvp— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) November 4, 2018
As if that weren’t bad enough, Marshall had to come off with a right knee injury in the 40th minute. Although the Sounders were able to get to halftime without allowing further damage, the loss of two of their steadiest performers was a serious cause for concern.
The second half calmed down considerably as the Sounders did well to hold possession and slow down the game. Their two best chances to equalize came in stoppage time, both through the play of Harry Shipp. First, Shipp worked a give-and-go that resulted in Victor Rodriguez taking an open shot from about the top of the penalty area that was right at Attinella. A few moments later, Shipp again worked a give-and-go that appeared to put Ruidíaz in, but it was knocked away at the last second.
10’ — Ruidíaz (Roldan)
17’ — Ebobsise (Valeri)
29’ — Blanco
Timbers (4-2-3-1): Attinella; Villafana, Ridgewell, Tuiloma, Valentin; Guzman (Olum 51’), Chara; Blanco, Valeri, Polo; Ebobsise (Melano 75’).
Sounders (4-2-3-1): Frei; Nouhou, Marshall (Torres 40’), Kim, Leerdam; Alonso, Svensson; Roldan (Francis 31’, Shipp 87’), Lodeiro, Rodriguez; Ruidiaz.
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