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Postgame Pontifications: No killer instinct

Sounders didn’t look like a team prepared for the intensity of a rivalry in loss to Timbers.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Portland Timbers Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

PORTLAND, Ore. — Brian Schmetzer's postgame press conferences are usually pretty calm affairs. Whether the Seattle Sounders have won or lost, Schmetzer rarely gets animated.

Saturday’s was an exception.

Following a 4-1 loss to the Portland Timbers — the Sounders’ fourth straight against their biggest rivals — Schmetzer was in no mood to play it cool. Schmetzer sounded as if he’d just unleashed a rare level of frustration and anger at his players after they’d led 1-0 and controlled the game for 70 minutes only to completely fall apart by surrendering three goals in a span of 10 minutes.

“I told them I don’t feel it’s a rivalry game,” Schmetzer said, his voice still shaking. “At 1-0, we have to have that killer instinct against a team that has beat us three games in a row, that’s had our number, at their place. Put the knife in, kill the game. I don’t care if it was the second goal or extending possession.”

Schmetzer wasn’t just frustrated with how the Sounders collapsed, but also with his perception that his group wasn’t as bothered by it as he felt they should be.

“It’s like another loss,” he said. “It’s not another loss. It’s against the Timbers. We have to get back, all of us, to understanding that this is a rivalry game. That’s what I said to everybody. That’s the reflection I have. It’s not good enough.”

When asked if there were any positives to take away, Schmetzer was emphatic.

“Zero. Zilch. Nada,” he said.

It’s not hard to understand why Schmetzer was so frustrated. For the first 70 minutes — but especially during the first 25 minutes of the second half — the Sounders had executed their game plan almost to perfection. As expected, they had dominated possession and were doing a far more effective job turning that into dangerous chances. The Timbers were playing with energy, but their offense was mostly limited to speculative shots from distance or tight angles.

The Sounders got their breakthrough goal in the 58th minute on a well-worked goal that came through the kind of repeatable action coaches dream about. Nicolás Lodeiro played in Obed Vargas on the wing and he hit a cross right to the penalty spot where Raúl Ruidíaz smoothly stroked it into the side netting. The Sounders came close to adding a second several times, most tantalizingly when Léo Chú couldn’t quite latch onto a Jordan Morris cross as he was all alone in front of goal. The Sounders were flying, the crowd growing restless.

But the game completely flipped almost as soon as Chú was replaced by Héber. Less than three minutes after that change, Santiago Moreno lofted a ball into the box. Despite being sandwiched between Alex Roldan and Yeimar Gomez Andrade, Dairon Asprilla was able to convert a textbook bicycle kick, beating Stefan Frei to the far post.

The goal seemed to send a shock into the air. The crowd reached new levels of excitement and the Timbers seemed determined not to give them any reason to die down. The Sounders had no answer.

By the time the dust had settled, the Sounders had given up more goals in an 18-minute stretch than they had in the previous 700 minutes. It was just their third three-goal loss since the start of the 2019 season, two of which have now come in their past three meetings with the Timbers.

None of this means the Sounders are suddenly bad. They weren’t even bad for most of this game. But there does seem to be some asymmetry in terms of how these two teams are treating this rivalry.

The Timbers played like a team knowing that their season was on the line. The Sounders seemed to treat this like a random MLS away game. It’s a familiar script that’s now played out so many times it’s impossible to ignore. It’s not just the last four games, the Timbers now have an 11-6-1 advantage over the Sounders across all competitions since the start of 2018, including an even harder-to-understand 4-0-1 record in their last five trips to Lumen Field.

If there is a positive to pull from this, maybe it can be that the Sounders start reversing that trend.

The Sounders’ next chance to show that is on June 3 at Lumen Field.

“You hate to lose these games,” Vargas said. “You just have put it away and keep working. When it’s time to play Portland again, this is a little reminder you don’t want to feel like this again.”

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