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AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

In game after game, year after year, the Portland Timbers have gone up to Seattle and found ways to come home empty handed — and Sunday night, with the two great rivals tied at one and the Sounders storming towards the finish, muscle memory told you that the Timbers were going to throw yet another result painfully away.

But they didn't. A little bit lucky, and plenty good over ninety intense, hard-fought minutes this time, the Timbers held on.

The result feels pretty, pretty good: Portland might not be leaving Seattle with a scalp, but for the first time in four long years, they aren't leaving it empty handed either.

They're leaving it on the doorstep of their first Cascadia Cup of the Caleb Porter era — with a point taken off of the defending champions, a few demons exorcised, and every reason to believe that they can play with any team in the league as we enter the time of the year when it matters most.

The Timbers, as they've so frequently done this year, came out firing. A Sebastian Blanco rocket forced an top-shelf save out of Stefan Frei before the game was a minute old. The Sounders barely made it out of their half in the first ten minutes. It was all Portland.

And then, at their first hurdle, the Timbers' defense fell apart. Eighteen minutes in, Nicolas Lodeiro swung a corner into the six-yard box that Christian Roldan headed out of Attinella's hands and eventually, after an almighty goalmouth scramble, it was Roldan who got knocked it in.

It was a terrible concession. Not only was it against the run of play, but the Timbers had again out-fought by Roldan for a loose ball in the box, and again been done in by the kind of Mickey Mouse goal that has haunted them both during this season and down the years in Seattle.

The good news was that the goal didn't turn the flow of the game. The Timbers were still ascendent.

They'd get a great look ten minutes before halftime, when a blocked Diego Valeri shot fell to Darren Mattocks — only for Blanco to blast Mattocks' layoff over. Then, just before the break, just as it seemed that the Timbers were about to let the Sounders off the hook for another lackadaisical half, Valeri found an opening.

The Maestro picked up the ball in midfield and sent it arching towards Mattocks, who had sprinted into a gaping hole between Roman Torres and Kelvin Leerdam into the penalty area. Mattocks took the ball down, and was cleaned out by Stefan Frei for a stone-cold penalty.

Valeri a wonderful talent, but he's also an elite competitor. He played the first half alone with more fire than all eleven Sounders did put together, and this time, there was no chance that anyone else was taking the spot-kick. Frei went the right way, but he didn't near get the ball as it burned into the right corner.

It was a massive goal — the goal that the Timbers didn't get when they dominated the first half of the May game in Seattle, and, tactically, the goal that they had to have to get a result in the rematch.

Porter said on Friday that he was hoping for an entertaining game, and, by starting Darlington Nagbe in central midfield with Dairon Asprilla on the right, he held up his end of the bargain.

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AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

But by sending out his most attacking lineup first, Porter was also taking a significant risk. Starting Asprilla meant that the Timbers had, outside of Jeremy Ebobisse, no attacking pieces on the bench. They needed to do their damage early — and get to the hour mark, the upward limit of Asprilla's fitness, leading the game or level in it.

Thanks to Valeri's penalty, that's exactly what they did. With the score knotted at one and the Timbers sitting on a point, Lawrence Olum could take Asprilla off, slide Nagbe out to the right, and the team could fall into the more defensive posture it was best equipped for.

Without Fanendo Adi, without Liam Ridgewell, and without David Guzman, Porter had to play his exactly cards right, and he did. Not only did the Timbers dominate that first half, just as they dominated every first half against the Sounders this year, but his guy, the embattled Mattocks, won the all-important penalty.

Porter has always, last year's road blackhole forgiven, thrived at this time of year. From the end of August on, there's no one better.

That's not to say that the second half was smooth sailing. Far from it. The Sounders, after sleepwalking through the first half, much as they've taken to sleepwalking through the first half of entire seasons, woke up at the start of the second.

Brian Schmetzer moved Jordan Morris higher up the field, and, almost immediately, Morris got in behind the Timbers' defense twice — but his cripplingly poor finishing, along with Attinella's strong goalkeeping, kept the score even.

Seattle got another boost when they introduced new Spanish winger Victor Rodriguez just after the hour mark, but the Timbers didn't fall away. It was only in the last ten minutes, that the Sounders began to pile on the pressure — and even then, though Portland looked tired, they didn't look flustered.

That said, it probably didn't hurt that the video review system was down — with the VAR, Baldomero Toledo, unable to communicate with referee Geiger. Had Toledo a line to Geiger, the consequences of a late Zarek Valentin handball could have been devastating.

But if the Timbers needed a break or two to get out of Seattle with a point, so be it. The Sounders got lucky in both of the previous meetings this year, and they've been getting the bounces in these games at CenturyLink for years.

Portland even got a call at the end when Nouhou, in a race downfield with Diego Chara, thrust out a forearm and connected with the Colombian's face. Geiger — perhaps unable to depart such a tasty encounter without leaving a mark — whipped out a red card that marked the end of the Sounders' charge.

The defense had held. Roy Miller, shaky on Wednesday night against Colorado, was absolutely tremendous. It's hard to imagine where the Timbers would be this year without him. Larrys Mabiala, not remotely cowed by Seattle's array of attacking talent, is proving similarly important. He's been nails since he joined in July.

It wasn't just the center backs. Vytas, who had one of his best attacking games for Portland on Wednesday night, had one of his best defensive games for the club on Sunday night. Zarek Valentin continues to be excellent, while Chara — as if it even needs to be said — was everywhere.

This Timbers team is toughening up. The defense is clamping down. The mentality is changing — and that should worry the rest of the league. If this team thinks they're best team in the country, they very well might be.

Portland has now outplayed Seattle three times this year. The Timbers should be licking their lips at the prospect of a playoff matchup with the Sounders — because next time Portland comes to CenturyLink, they just might the finish the job.