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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sounders lose to Timbers 4-2 in Portland

Seattle Times

PORTLAND – There is little room for subtlety when the Sounders and Timbers get together.

Forget about reading between the lines – these teams spell it out, underline their point and then scrawl over it with a highlighter. This is a rivalry with fists of ham.

“It never seems to be a nil-nil game,” Seattle captain Brad Evans said. “It’s always one side playing much better than the other. It brings the best and the worst out of both teams.”

The opening 45 minutes of Sunday’s rivalry rubber match at Providence Park certainly brought out the best of the Timbers. Portland battered Seattle with four unanswered goals, knocking it onto its heels.

And though the Sounders were able to save face with two goals in six minutes on the other side of the break, one of the club’s worst halves of its MLS era sealed its fate in a 4-2 loss to a hated rival at Providence Park.

A win would have lifted Seattle (9-13-4) into the Western Conference playoff places. The Sounders had a golden opportunity to make up chunks of ground against the team it is chasing in the playoff race. Instead, and on the wrong side of what is known in soccer parlance as a six-pointer, Seattle now sits four points back of the sixth-place Timbers with eight matches to go.

Portland set a physical tone early, Diego Chara elbows into the small of backs, and that seemed to throw Seattle off its game. The Sounders turned the ball over in the middle of the field, pumping the Timbers’ vaunted counterattack with oxygen.

The Seattle back line was a bit of a mess.

There wasn’t much Evans could have done differently to prevent Portland’s opening goal. He was in the right spot and timed his jump well – Vytautas Andriuskevicius just got a little bit more lift on his leap and finished with a sharp header off the underside of the bar. Yet rewind the tape a little further, and there was Joevin Jones getting burned by Alvas Powell on the right flank to set up the corner kick in the first place.

On the second goal, Evans whiffed on a tackle and Chad Marshall stopped to watch as Fanendo Adi swooped in to score on the rebound. On the third, Tyrone Mears was jogging when Lucas Melano beat him with a near-post run. On the fourth, Cristian Roldan got caught in a pick to leave Steven Taylor with a wide-open header.

One, two, three, four – the Sounders looked dazed after the last, wandering dream-like through a nightmare.

“I will accept the blame for the first half,” interim Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “It’s my job to make sure that the team is prepared. Obviously, that didn’t happen. … They had some pick plays on their set pieces that obviously they worked on in training and that we weren’t ready for.”

The attack, which has looked so rejuvenated since the addition of attacking midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro last month, lacked pop.

The balance they established felt tenuous even as the first five games of the Schmetzer era went by unbeaten.

Jordan Morris thrived on the pinpoint passing of Lodeiro, who lived in the spaces created by the presence of Clint Dempsey. Take out Dempsey, who is out indefinitely while being evaluated for an irregular heartbeat, and the chemistry wasn’t there.

“The first half was just tough in general,” Morris said. “Nothing was really going our way. I didn’t get the ball quite as much. It would have helped to have had Clint on the field, because that’s another player who can help you keep possession. We didn’t keep possession well enough for the first half.”

The Sounders could have folded after the break. They didn’t.

Schmetzer’s halftime message? “’Nobody gives up, or they won’t play. And we’re going to play for pride.’ Those guys took it one step further.”

Andreas Ivanschitz scored less than two minutes into the second half off of a deflection, and Morris followed with a header in the 51st to cut Portland’s lead in half. They forced the home crowd to sit up and take notice, and a nervous energy palpable within the stadium for a good 15 minutes or so.

But the Timbers slowed tempo, settled back in and ultimately cruised to a crucial win.

“We just couldn’t manufacture that third one, which might have – might have; that’s a big might – put a little more pressure on them,” Schmetzer said.

This isn’t the rivalry for such ambiguity. Seattle-Portland matches are about making a statement, loud and clear.

And during what could end up as the defining 45 minutes of this season, the Timbers left little doubt.

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