SEATTLE — This is why you don’t throw big parties at your house.
The Seattle Sounders were set to hold a big celebration Saturday at Lumen Field to commemorate their historic Concacaf Champions League victory. That the opponents were the Portland Timbers was supposed to be more of an added bonus, providing the Sounders a chance to troll their biggest rivals. The problem with big parties is that sometimes unruly guests show up and spoil the fun.
Sure at the beginning, everyone may tolerate the rowdy behavior. But if you let them hang around too long, the odds of them trashing the place increase.
And by the time the whistle at the end of the Sounders’ 3-0 defeat at Lumen Field — continuing the string of unfortunate home results to their neighbors to the south — the boos reigned down after what can only be described as a shock performance.
The Sounders it must be said fought until the end to at least manage a consolation goal, and even down a man for essentially the entire second half created dangerous chances which on another day might have pulled at least a draw from defeat. But after Chris Penso pointed to the spot having been summoned by VAR to review a handball in the box, the subsequent conversion past Stefan Frei relegated the Sounders’ slim chances at a comeback to almost none.
That the Timbers put a third past Frei shortly after made things academic, and the best thing the Sounders could do was hope to escape the game without any injuries. On this day, even that was too much to hope for as a just-returning Raul Ruidiaz left the game midway through the second half.
Next time, rent a space, pay the insurance and get a good bouncer.
Sounders can’t capitalize on good first half
Some token early pressure from the Timbers aside, the Sounders mostly enjoyed a comfortable start to the game, and first half overall. Dominating possession, passing and shots, the Sounders had little trouble pressuring Portland. But that also fits the Timbers ethos: cede possession and pounce on the counterattack, which they did to good effect on the opening goal in the 24th minute. Even after going down a goal, the Sounders had their chances to even the score — most notably a Raúl Ruidíaz chance that he put off the post — but simply didn’t have their shooting boots on today.
Red card ruins the Sounders’ day
If the opening goal was a bit of a sucker punch, the red card was the equivalent of dropping a weight on your toe: avoidable, painful and tough to recover from. Having picked up what could be considered a soft yellow in the first half, Jackson Ragen surely knew he had to be on his best behavior for the remainder of the game. But in an attempt to stop a dangerous Portland attack, Ragen went to ground, gambling that he could win the ball. He lost that bet, and when Penso went to his front pocket to flash the yellow, the red card immediately followed. Frei called it a learning experience for the talented center back, who has sandwiched a couple of tough outings in-between a solid one in Toronto. Growing pains, indeed.
To troll, or not to troll
It’s easy to say that everyone loves sticking it to their rival, and the Sounders had enjoyed every bit of the media in the run-up to this match, ever since they announced they’d be dropping the banner when the Timbers arrived. It had not escaped the Timbers' attention, and they let it known that would be a motivator when the ball was kicked. “Bulletin board” material may be a tired cliche, but that doesn’t necessarily make it an untrue one. That said, it’s a stretch to lay blame for this defeat at a large sign hanging from the rafters, but as Stefan Frei intimated after the match, it probably didn’t help.
Reminder that making playoffs is far from assured
The Sounders had briefly risen into the middle class of the MLS Cup Playoff race, having struggled to breach the red line after some early-season struggles. Now more than halfway through the MLS season, they’re on the outside looking in, with the Timbers nipping at their heels as well. They may still have some games in hand on most of the competition and are just three points out of fourth, but they have to win those matches, particularly at home. And as they’ve shown recently, that’s far from a guarantee.
After the match, neither Schmetzer nor Frei had answers for the inability of the home team to post winning results, but this has long since been explainable as a fluke or coincidence. With the last time the Sounders beat the Timbers at home being in 2017, perhaps the simplest explanation is the right one: When the two teams play, the Timbers are better than the Sounders at Lumen Field. Until the Sounders do something to change that, this run of results is not an exception: It’s the rule.