PORTLAND — What do you say about a game that has everything?
The Seattle Sounders came into the first proper Cascadia match of the season — a near-capacity crowd with the points counting towards the Cascadia Cup standings — on the heels of a confidence-boosting 3-0 victory over Liga MX side Tigres UANL. Impressive though that match was, there was still something for the Sounders to prove in league play. Tigres aside, the Sounders were still on only one point in three matches, the Western Conference pack was closing, and the Supporters’ Shield leader distancing.
But a Sounders-Timbers match rarely fails to provide talking points, if not entertainment. There was no such lack of either on a sweltering summer Sunday evening in the Rose City, where the two sides combined for one of the wildest matches the teams have played ever. Combining for eight goals between them, the Sounders tied their best-ever away total of six, blitzing the Timbers in the second half on the way to the 6-2 victory. The scoreline also matched the biggest margin of victory between the sides since they first started playing each other in 1975.
That, however, is just the view from 1,000 feet. On the field, the storylines could provide the outline for a novella. Indeed it was a story in three acts, with the Timbers able to pin the Sounders back early and often, and Brian Schmetzer’s side able to grab a lead somewhat a against the run of play. The Timbers then came roaring back, though the goals they score were a bit harsh on Stefan Cleveland, who played the game of his life particularly in the first half. The final act played out over the last 35 or so minutes, with the Sounders stringing together a couple golazos and couple opportunistic strikes to put it away.
The victory itself will go a long way to calming nerves of both the Sounders and supporters as they continue their road trip this week to the midwest. Getting one (or six) over on the Timbers on the road is a good tonic for what ails any Sounder.
Cleveland saves the Sounders early
To get it out of the way, the Timbers deserve a bit of credit for their first-half performance, which to be fair left them with what was probably a harsh halftime deficit. A deficit that likely would have been a lead had it not been for the heroics of Stefan Cleveland. Put simply, Cleveland stood on his head, bailing the Sounders out on numerous occasions as the Timbers gave the Sounders fits from both wide positions and set pieces. The Sounders' issues weren’t helped by some off-target passing, ill-timed turnovers and lax marking on set pieces. Between the 19th and 27th minutes, Cleveland was called upon at least four times to get the Sounders out of trouble. Eventually, Cleveland wasn’t able to keep the Timbers completely off the scoreboard, courtesy of a deflected goal by Blanco in 32’ and a rebound off a set-piece in the 52’, but few would find fault with Cleveland on either goal. It was a fantastic performance by a goalkeeper coming into his own.
The Ax men
Timbers fans probably thought (hoped) they had seen the last of Fredy Montero in a Sounders uniform when he departed for greener pastures back in 2013. He returned for a relatively uneventful stay in Vancouver, but the Colombian’s heart was always in the Emerald City. That the Sounders were able to convince Montero to return on a veterans’ minimum salary may be one of the all-time coups in MLS history. Montero may not be a 30-game starter, giving the Sounders 90 minutes every week, but as Portland learned, he still has that magic. No longer the constant goal-threat he once was, Montero showed he is still goal dangerous from inside the penalty box and out. His first goal came when he was first to a scramble around the box. He then created his own moment from 20 yards out, beating a flailing Aljaz Ivacic, who must have wondered what he’d gotten himself into.
Not to be outdone, Raúl Ruidíaz matched the man he’s been chasing for the all-time Sounders scoring lead. If it wasn’t for Jimmy Medranda, everyone would be talking about Ruidíaz’s free kick in the 56th minute from the very edge of the penalty area, a range that typically invites shots directly into the defensive wall. Somehow, Ruidíaz managed to generate both the power and placement of the shot which left Ivacic rooted to the spot. Ruidiaz’s second goal, putting away a rebound from a Nico Lodeiro free kick, won’t win any goal of the year votes, but it put him at the top of the Golden Boot race and cements his position as an MVP candidate, if not outright front-runner.
Nico Lodeiro is really back
The Sounders have really missed this. Lodeiro, as he has admitted, isn’t quite 90 minutes fit. But his progression is right on track, and after a short cameo against FC Dallas and a 25-minute runout vs. Tigres, Lodeiro got his most extensive time of the year, coming on at halftime. There is something about what Lodiero provides that the Sounders just can’t replicate. Lodeiro’s quality on the ball was on full display with his vision, passing and control. It’s no coincidence that once he started to assert influence on the proceedings, the Sounders were able to control the game. It hardly seems a coincidence that the Sounders have scored six goals in a little under 100 minutes with Lodeiro on the field. Having gone the whole second half against Portland, the next step would seem to be 60 minutes, likely putting Lodeiro in a position to get his first start of the year.
Wonder goals galore
Prior to the Tigres outburst, the Sounders had been struggling for goals, having failed to score multiple goals in five straight. Sounders fans will hope that they didn’t use up too much mojo in this outburst, particularly when you put up three goal-of-the-week candidates for submission, one of which may get a shout in some Goal of the Year voting courtesy of Jimmy Medranda’s outrageous volley in the 77th minute. Of course, one could argue that the law of averages means that the Sounders are due for a succession of high-output performances given the mid-summer drought. Opposing defenses across MLS will hope that’s not the case.
Cristian Roldan will probably see his contributions buried under the avalanche of goals, but it shouldn’t go without saying his integral role in the Sounders’ performance. As is typical, Roldan was all over the pitch, but his passing to open up key attacking opportunities for his teammates was sublime, displaying a vision and creativity that he doesn’t always get credit for. Schmetzer credited some of the uptick in team performance to Roldan’s return from national team duty, and it was clear the team was missing what he brings. With Roldan and the other injured Sounders returning to the fold, Schmetzer said he can envision what his team will look like for the remainder of the season. Which, based on Sunday night, should create a very pretty picture.