The Timbers can't quite punch their ticket to the postseason tonight, but oh, the things they can do.
We're LIVE at the Jelly, where first place in the Western Conference and nothing less than a Cascadia Cup will be decided as Portland hosts Seattle at 6(ish) p.m. Goose Hollow time.
A win by the Timbers puts Portland atop the West with two matches to play, while a draw sends Seattle home sans hardware—and Whitecaps backers carrying a trophy across international borders.
Two weeks ago, Seattle was riding high atop the table after winning eight of nine. Now after yielding nine goals in back-to-back fugly losses, the Sounders are suddenly spiraling adrift like Sandy Bullock in Gravity. Depending on who you read, the Sounders are in free-fall. They're dreadful. "A ship about to take on water."
Shoot, according to coach Sigi Schmid, Seattle can't do much of anything right.
"We’re just not making plays." he said. "We’re not making saves, we’re not making defensive stops, we’re not winning tackles. People are slipping in behind us. We’re not running with people."
It's a derby, y'all. And Portland's 100th match as an MLS franchise is sure to be a doozy. So click past the jump and follow along, as I deftly describe the action—on and off the pitch.
Seattle (15-10-6, 51 points)—Marcus Hahnemann in goal. DeAndre Yedlin, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Patrick Ianni, and Leonardo Gonzalez on defense. Mauro Rosales, Osvaldo Alonso, Adam Moffat and Alex Caskey at midfield. Lamar Neagle and Clint Dempsey up front.
Rounding out the 18: Michael Gspurning, Marc Burch, Djimi Traore, Steve Zakuani, Andy Rose, David Estrada, Eriq Zavaleta.
Portland (12-5-14, 50 points)—Donovan Ricketts in goal. Jack Jewsbury, Futty Danso, Pa Kah and Michael Harrington on defense. Diego Chara, Kalif Alhassan and Will Johnson at midfield. Jose Valencia, Max Urruti and Darlington Nagbe up front.
Rounding out the 18: Milos Kocic, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Sal Zizzo, Brad Ring, Diego Valeri, Ben Zemanski, Frederic Piquionne.
Supporters groups enter Jeld-Wen Field in the extreme Southwest corner of the old stadium, through double-gates within throwing distance of the MAC Club. As I walked in about two hours prior to first kick, nearly Sounders 1,000 fans lined the outside wall of the stadium. As I made my way through the cigarette smoke, indistinguishable conversations at varying levels of intoxication and one guy snapping his scarf at a buddy like a locker-room towel, I started feeling it.
Once inside, I notice an enterprising beer salesman waits at the bottom of the stars that all supporters walk down. The police presence is definitely more pronounced than usual (two mounted officers patrolled Portland Firemen's Park about two hours prior to first kick). The North End is sunlit with 12 ropes hanging from the rafters.
It's a drop-dead-gorgeous, mild night here, too, which adds to the buzz. All this despite both sides being without marquee and key players alike. Seattle's US National team contingent—(injured) Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans are out for the Sounders, while Portland will work without Rodney Wallace, Ryan Johnson and Alvas Powell.
It looks like the 41-year-old Hahnemann will make his first career start against Portland and Dempsey cracks the XI for the first time in six matches. On the Timbers' end, it doesn't appear Valeri is quite healthy enough to go for a full 90, so it'll be Alhassan getting the start. Piquionne also suits up after missing the last couple months with a bum ankle.
During pregame introductions, Dempsey definitely got the biggest boos—despite the fact that he's scored as many MLS goals as I have this year.
Pre-tifo, Timbers Army holds up letters in 107—"GUT THE FISH"—and a corresponding chant gets going.
The tifo itself is inspired by the Beatles, all while digging a bit at Seattle—and their fans'—consumer tendencies.
FIRST HALF: Timbers headed toward the South end...and away we go!
1st minute—Chara called for the match's first foul (weird) and it'll be a free kick from 35 out. Rosales sends one in, but the whistle is blown beforehand and we'll try it again.
2nd—Take two for Rosales, who looks for a leaping Dempsey. Kah gets himself in a good spot and upends Dempsey, who can't get to it.
4th—Urruti called for a foul just in front of the Timbers bench. He doesn't like the call very much.
5th—Giveaway at midfield due to pressure from Alhassan and here comes Trencito. He runs it down the west sideline and earns a throw. Nothing doing, as Dempsey eventually takes one away from Chara. Johnson gets it back and plays it into the box for Jewsbury, who can't quite get a clean header on it.
8th—Neagle curls a shot that looks dangerous, but it's just wide. Ricketts will have a goal kick and sends it to Seattle's arch and Urruti draws the foul. Dangerous situation for Seattle as Alhassan, Johnson and Chara loiter around it. Big opportunity for Portland here.
10th—Johnson airmails it. Goal kick, Seattle.
13th—HUGE SAVE by Ricketts! He robs Neagle with a leaping save to his left. Ball sent in for Neagle, who attempts to flip it back over his head. It was on-goal, but Ricketts with another world-class save.
14th—SOUNDERS HIT THE POST! A crazy flurry of action after a corner kick leads to a couple attempts by Seattle. They can't convert, however, and Dempsey finds woodwork on the best opportunity of the bunch. And it looks like Dempsey might've take a knock on his shoulder, as well, as he comes to the sideline pointing at it.
20th—Seattle has controlled this match so far. Alhassan not having his best start—and the Timbers obviously miss Valeri's presence so far. Sounders have had the best opportunities early.
21st—Nagbe finds a bit of space for the first time tonight and looks into the box for Urruti. He turns with a bit of a strong touch, and Yedlin is there for a nice tackle to take it away.
24th—Timbers picking it up now. They're maintaining a bit more possession and have worked the west sideline on their past couple possessions.
26th—Jewsbury with a hard tackle on Dempsey, who's verrrrrry slow to get up. Timbers on the counter and Rosales picks up a yellow after a hard foul on Johnson. He had a few non-calls to his way up north the last time these two teams met, so Portland fans are likely thinking "about time" after that.
29th—Another free kick coming in after Johnson is fouled just inside midfield. He sends in a high and lofting ball, and it's no problem for Hahnemann. Dempsey went out for a moment to get his left shoulder taped, but he's back on. He's feeling that shoulder though: It's not moving far from side.
31st—Neagle with a long header ahead that Futty chases down. He's forced to boot it over the endline as Caskey gives chase. Outswinger is sent in and Urruti strongly heads it away.
33rd—Chara is fouled by Caskey in the Southwest corner, and it'll be a dangerous free-kick chance for Portland. Johnson lines it up like a corner kick and sends it out-swinging for Jewsbury, who heads it over the bar.
36th—Dempsey gets a bit of space and has one from about 30 yards out, but it's off Kah's back. Nagbe is fouled at midfield—the Sounders are really playing him physically tonight.
37th—Rosales drops for Alonso, who fires a shot/cross from distance. Ricketts is there to nab it, two-handed.
39th—Nagbe with a bit of space set up by a Johnson steal and Nagbe beats Alonso at midfield. He winds up and fires a screamer from 30 yards out, but Hahnemann is there to punch it back into the box. Trencito comes flying in for a rebound attempt, but it's just beyond the reach of his left leg.
40th—Urruti springs Nagbe, who gets past about four defenders and makes his way into the box. He looks to have Hahnemann beat, but Alonso comes in from behind to make a GREAT DEFENSIVE PLAY. Nagbe probably has a goal there if not for the hustle of Alonso, who ran with Nagbe the whole way.
42nd—Moffat tries one from 35 yards, but it's just left. That's one dude you don't want to leave too much space from distance. The Scotsman and former Timber has made an MLS career of lengthy goals.
45th—TIMBERS GOAL! It's Alhassan! A half-volley finish after a missed clearance by Yedlin. Ball was sent in by Jewsbury and Hahnemann looked like he might come out for it, but a poor clearance by Yedlin goes right to the top of the box and the waiting right foot of Alhassan. What a clutch goal just before half.
HALFTIME: Portland leads 1-0. The Timbers had 55% of the possession and had nine shots compared to Seattle's five. Duels were pretty much tied and each team had one save apiece.
SECOND HALF: Timbers headed toward their Army...and we're back at it!
46th—Portland is unbeaten when scoring first this year. Can they close out Seattle and vault to the top of the table? We'll know in 45 minutes. A bit of a sloppy start for both sides as we get underway.
48th—Valencia and Urruti go back and forth with some combo play and it leads to Valencia dribbling into the box. He fires a shot mid-stride, but it's just over the bar. First spark of life from either side in the half and the North End is electrified.
49th—Neagle sends a cross through the box that Jewsbury can't clear. Moffat gets to it just before it crosses the line and tries to send a cross back in, but Ricketts is there to grab it.
54th—Timbers biding their time and looking to poke a hole in the Sounders defense, but Seattle is holding firm. Dempsey and Futty rise for a header and Dempsey goes down in a heap. He's really favoring that shoulder and Futty is by no means taking it easy on him.
57th—Nagbe with a nice little back-heel flick to Johnson, who skies a shot left-footed. All set up by Chara, who takes a knock from Dempsey but keeps the ball. Johnson might wish he had that one back—he was a bit off-balance there. First sub of the night for Seattle: It'll be Estrada coming on for the captain, Rosales.
60th—Johnson plays a cheeky pass ahead for Urruti, who's taken down by Hurtado. Both players calling for a foul but neither we get it. '
62nd—Seattle corner sent in outswinging by Caskey. It gets past Hurtado and Neagle can't get to it despite being WIDE OPEN on the far post. Timbers were definitely fortunate there—if Neagle gets any little piece of that ball, we're tied.
65th—Nagbe on the run after Futty hits a clearance straight off Caskey's, uh, lower stomach. No numbers for Portland and Nagbe drops it back before being knocked to the ground. Timbers knocking it around on the backline now, taking their time.
67th—Alhassan fouls Dempsey, pulling him down by the shoulder. That hurts. Timbers will make their first substitution: It'll be Zemanski coming on for Valencia.
68th—Free kick from 40 yards sent in by Caskey and Harrington gets a header on it to clear it backward.
70th—Alhassan draws a corner kick off a throw-in. Johnson sends it in for one of the Gambians, but neither Kah or Futty can hit it solidly.
72nd—A couple hard fouls back-to-back as Yedlin goes down at midfield before Nagbe is taken down right in front of the Timbers bench. He's slow to get up, but once back on his feet, he's leveled on a 50-50 ball. Here comes at least a yellow as in the aftermath, there's an elbow by Alonso that looks like it might've nearly caught Johnson in the face. AND ALONSO IS SHOWN A RED CARD. The assistant referee is really getting the business from much of the Sounders side. DEMPSEY GETS A YELLOW CARD NOW. Maybe? It's hard to tell. Frustration boiling over for Seattle, and it looks like Alonso might've even gotten a few words in for Porter and the Timbers coaching staff on his way off the pitch.
77th—OK, we're finally back at it after yet another yellow card for Seattle, this one on Hurtado. Sounders will make another sub: Zakuani comes on for Dempsey.
80th—Seattle with a bit of build-up near the top of the box, led by Neagle. He finds Estrada after a loose touch, and Estrada shoots a dribbler that's SAVED BY RICKETTS. That one nearly sneaks by Portland's keeper, who just gets a paw on it.
81st—Final sub for Seattle: Rose on for Caskey. Things pick back up and Urruti brings it all the way down. He's defended well and tries a shot from the corner of the box, but it's in front of Hahnemann and over the line.
82nd—Urruti stood down after taking that shot, and he's not getting up. Holding his left hamstring after stretching to take that last shot. Really looks to be in pain.
84th—Piquionne was just about to check in for Urruti, and he'll come on as the Timbers training staff takes Urruti straight through the tunnel and back to the locker room.
85th—Yedlin with a couple spurts of determined dribbling, but he's thwarted twice. First on a sliding tackle by Harrington, then by a charging Johnson. Timbers make their final sub: It'll be Zizzo for Alhassan.
86th—Alhassan limping off the field as the chainsaw blares. He gets a nice ovation as the goal-scorer tonight. Huge goal and a big-time performance for Alhassan, who provides the offense in the absence of Valeri.
87th—Nagbe fouled by Neagle at midfield and he's slow to get up. Timbers are taking their time, naturally.
88th—Zemanski with a nice touch to free Nagbe along the West sideline. Nagbe runs to the corner flag and is fouled just inside the lines.
89th—It's a virtual corner kick here, but Johnson just pokes it short to Nagbe. He goes to Zemanski, but the latter can't get past a double-team and Seattle will finally get it back.
90th—Zizzo with a steal and plays it back to Piquionne, who slithers through the defense and fires a shot that's deflected right away.
Five minutes of stoppage time...Dangerous free kick in the attacking half for Seattle. Moffat lining it up about 35 yards out. He sends it in low and it's cleared for the moment. ...And now Moffat sends another one and IT HITS THE POST! Zakuani with a great look from the spot that's deflected by Kah and HITS THE CROSSBAR. Rose (I think) is there for another look, but JEWSBURY IS STANDING ON THE LINE FOR A HUGE SAVE! Ping-pong action right in front of the net and the Timbers somehow withstand the onslaught...On the other end, Nagbe chips for Zemanski, who makes his way up the line and attempts a cross for Piquionne, but it's CLEARED BY YEDLIN!...Piquionne again dribbling at the top of the box and is taken down. No whistle. Zakuani has it and he and Johnson scrap a bit in the corner.
FULL TIME: TIMBERS WIN 1-0. Portland is in first place in the Western Conference and sits tied with New York in the race for the Supporter's Shield. Green and yellow smoke billowing from the North End. And on the Southern scoreboard, the conference standings show Portland on top.
Porter's postgame presser: