The Seattle Sounders went down to Portland to re-start their MLS season — again — coming off of an ultimately disappointing end to the MLS is Back Tournament. However one values the Orlando experience, the bottom line was that the Sounders bowed out earlier than expected while the Portland Timbers hoisted the trophy.
So there was a little bit extra on the line this time around given the circumstances surrounding the game, with the Timbers looking to back up their trophy and the Sounders looking to make a statement. And make a statement they did, blitzing the Timbers for three goals in a 13-minute stretch to notch an important road victory against their arch rivals. The win moves the Sounders into second place in the Western Conference with 11 points as they look forward to a tough stretch of games against the two LA squads, a rematch against Portland and tough matchups with San Jose and Real Salt Lake.
VAR (rightly) to the rescue
How things could have been different. Early into what turned out to be a rather nondescript first half, Portland appeared to take the lead on a thunderbolt of a shot from right back Chris Duvall. In the 5th minute, Duvall rocketed a shot off a failed Sounders clearance past Stefan Frei for a 1-0 lead. However, VAR flagged the play for an offside by Eryk Williamson. A review by head referee confirmed the suspicion, and the Sounders dodged a very early bullet.
Ruidiaz’s finishing can give Sounders fans heartburn at times, but count him out at your own risk. Notwithstanding his near miss in the 68’, Ruidiaz turned on the flash in the 72nd minute, redirecting a cutback on goal that hit the top of the crossbar and bounced in with the help of a deflection off Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clark. There may have been some argument as to whether it was an own-goal, but his brace in the 83rd minute was all class. A long-ball from Stefan Frei was expertly flicked on by substitute Will Bruin, and Ruidiaz was able to settle the loose ball and deftly chip it over Clark to give the Sounders some breathing room. Ruidiaz then helped kill off the game by setting up Kelvin Leerdam who calmly slotted home the third goal.
There may have been some fans that weren’t particularly sad to see that embattled centerback Xavier Arreaga was a scratch for the game. While that may be a bit harsh, the performance of Yeimar Gómez Andrade and Shane O’Neill in helping to pitch a shutout won’t do much to change their minds. Rather than bury Arreaga, praise for Andrade and O’Neill is in order. The duo barely put a foot wrong all night, repeatedly snuffing out dangerous chances and rendering the Timbers vaunted counterattack all but impotent. Andrade in particular did an expert job in matching up with the Timbers forwards, and cutting off passes. Save for being beat on one dangerous header from Jeremy Ebobisse, O’Neill was more than up to the task as well.
Bruin continues to make an impact
If Will Bruin keeps this up, he’s going to force Brian Schmetzer into some touch decisions. Before Bruin suffered a minor setback in June, Schmetzer raved about how he looked in training. Then he came back and scored against LAFC. Today he impacted the game off the bench, assisting on the second Ruidiaz goal. He was dangerous throughout his nine-minute appearance, and as Schmetzer said in his post-game press conference, is making the case for the Sounders playing with two forwards.
Back to normal
Though there were no fans in the games, the sense of somewhat normal routine was a welcome chance for the Sounders. Both Leerdam and Stefan Frei mentioned how much of a benefit the “normal” road trip was, in that they were able to charter down to Portland, relax in the hotel and arrive at the stadium for the game. This was in stark contrast to the Orlando tournament, which was anything but normal, given the month-long stay. The use of charter flights for the remainder of the season should be a major benefit.