Sounders Week in Review: Portland ends our season — it hurt

The season is over — but the passion of this fan base will never stop. Seven weeks until preseason starts. We are Sounders

November 10th, Thursday, 8:13 PM

“What am I forgetting, what am I forgetting…” I kept asking myself as I stood there. Kind of in a daze, but still somewhat cognizant of my surroundings… well, again, kind of.  I didn’t even know what to wear as these events are confusing. Do I wear a collared shirt, just a regular t-shirt, slacks, jeans? My mind was completely all over the place. I stopped and just stood there for a second.

Then a loud and obnoxious noise broke silence and brought me back to life, it was my phone. Doing the usual check of who was calling me, I see it was my boss. Good guy and the person that was going to remind me of what I was forgetting. “Right, the Google Chrome cast. Yup, I am bringing it.” I said as I scurried over to the TV to unplug everything. “I’m coming, I’m coming. Give me a second to get everything together and I’ll be right there.” I stuffed the sleek black usb device in my less the posh, black pleather laptop bag that was less than ideal.  It was less than 3 hours until “go time” for the Sounders playoff game, and only an hour until the Real Salt Lake-LA Galaxy match, yet I had a dinner party two floors up to throw down on before all that.

Being TDY for 6 months in Tampa has brought a lot of changes for me and one of them is not having a family with me. For those that have no experienced the insanity of being married, having kids all the yet awesomeness that is intertwined in that sort of lifes there is a little piece of you that misses the little things that comes with it. Well, lucky enough those that have joined me for this 6 month endeavor are all very sociable and we get together for a “family” dinner.

That’s one thing I will always miss about the military whenever my time is done. People are great and there is so much camaraderie that it feels like a family or a special type of fraternity. It’s hard to explain.

I was going to make a short, hour-ish, appearance and then back to my apartment for a night of uncanny awesomeness that I was certain would end with talk about how the Sounders were going to have to again vanquish demons with battle against LA Galaxy—Yeah, I was 4/4 in terrible MLS conference semi-final predictions. Yay, me— I thought about this as the elevator carriage floated upwards. I thought about Brad Evans and his legacy with the franchise. The chime struck for the first floor. My mind then turned towards Mauro Rosales. A guy that has been everything you could ask for in a Captain. Tonight could be his final game in a rave green, how would we remember him two, five, ten years down the road?

The elevator slowed and I got off… headed towards Pizza and an hour long discussion about the Redskins-Vikings Thursday night football game. All while I answer a bazillion questions about scarves and football. Yes, I took my scarf.

Retrospectively, I think that scarf is bad luck and I will be burning that scarf before next season.

9:45 PM – Real Salt Lake v. LA Galaxy: Second Half

Okay, an hour turned out to be a bit longer than what I had anticipated. But, look, they’re all good people and I genuinely enjoyed my time and there was a salad with sweet corn and why am I justifying myself to you?

Whatever, I had a game to catch. No, not the Sounders game… I still had plenty of time for that. I wanted to check the highlights and catch the second half of Salt Lake, Los Angeles. Really, the intention at one point was to watch the whole game but things changed.

As I walked into my place, I had left the TV on for when I got home, I wasn’t surprised as I hear Adrian Healey announced the score–1-0 Real Salt Lake head into halftime. Honestly, even though I picked the Galaxy to find a win on the road, I wasn’t all the surprised. Jason Kries is an amazing coach and he tends to toe a sort of Dom Keaner-ish rule. The guy can do anything and get away with it. Heck, there have been rumors of him going to NYC-FC for months now and you know who’s not tired of it? Everyone. Why? Because no matter who losses, someone wins Jason Kries. That’s worth being patient over.

There is one more slightly incidentally narrative associated with Sandy, Utah; any game played in Sandy is incredible tough place to win especially in the playoffs in the fall, when you have outrageous frigid wind and the possibility of snow. MLS playoffs! The wind itself was already playing a huge part over the match. I saw LA’s keeper, Jaime Penedo, clear a ball and get the ball caught up in the wind only to go a mile out of bounds after it was clearly not initially destined for the sidelines.

(As a side note has anyone seen ball just completely clear the stadium? I mean if keepers can score goals and kick balls higher than … like, really high. Than eventually there has to be a case where a ball just kind of floats out from time to time, right? I don’t know something to investigate.)

Somewhere during half time I also got a look at Alexi Lalas and his audacious mustache.  Wow, I just hadn’t been to discuss that with anyone. So, there that is.

During Lalas overview of the first half, ESPN started their build-up coverage of the Seattle game and we get further word, which was largely being send out by way of Twitter, that Shalrie Joseph is getting the start at… forward. The Sounders immobile force and cannon of a right boot was now going to be in the starting line-up for the first time since in over two months and featured up top paired with Eddie Johnson up top.

This news was making its way out to the people around the time that it was found Obafemi Martins would be on the bench and would not start. Supporters were generally incensed at this point with the personnel decisions being made by the coaching staff.

People’s heads were exploding across all forms of social media and probably also in real life, probably.

I said it at the time and I’ll continue to believe that it wasn’t as crazy as everyone think it might have been. The guy can win a header in the 18-yard box, he’s a 6’3 giant midfielder that is built more like a football free-safety than a midfielder. Having him bruise with Pa Modou Kah isn’t a terrible call. If all he did the entire time was scissor kick Will Johnson, It still would have been brilliant.

If we could, let’s just try compartmentalizing the match for a moment and think of things outside of the result. Had this been a different game and had the game not been against Portland, would the move for Joseph up top been thought of different? Maybe, maybe not.

Watching RSL was a perfect way to get the juices going for the Sounders game. It was like reminiscing about the last two years in some brilliant build up. The epic battles between Javier Morales and Mauro RosalesFredy Montero and Nick Rimando, Ozzie and Beckerman it actual leaves more psyched than what I was three hours stumbling around my apartment trying to put pants on.

I’d go into it but it wouldn’t fit the monologue. ..

The real first big issue of the night potentially starts keeping into my mind as there is 10 minutes until the Sounders match and LA-RSL is still tied, on aggregate; meaning that there is going to be overtime, or in soccer talk, extra time. This, in any playoff situation, is basically awesome.

11 PM –The First Half–

I was pretty disappointed as the intro to the Sounders game was commencing. NBC has done a lot to future the cause of soccer in this country, but they have John Strongand ESPN gave RSL-LA, Adrian Healey. Part of me was dreading having to put up with that over the course of the season. If you aren’t up on your soccer announcers this is basically the equivalent of having Joe Buck when you could have Jim Nance.

Then the most amazing thing happened, Arlo White said something.

I’m sure that Timber fans feel about Arlo the same as I do with Strong. There is just an association of bias there that when I hear him speak I just kind of… shrug. I don’t take him overly serious and that’s probably unfair, I acknowledge that. But at the same time, I’m alright with it. Sometimes you just have to irrationally dislike something. It’s just inherent in our sports nature and there isn’t a lot of rhyme or reason for it.

As we got another look at the starting line-ups and watched everyone come out you had this feeling like this game had the potential to be… something… or at least that’s what I told myself.  The truth is like all those fans I was making fun of just 15 minutes previous in Sandy, Utah I was nervous.

What made things worse was that the Timbers came out in the first half. And I mean they CAME, OUT. They brought speed, precision, and movement across the attacking third. Any previous thoughts that the Timbers were going to further concede possession and play the draw were lost. There were plenty of events in the match but the key ones to follow are the shots. I’d love to break down the match in a lot of different ways but it’s best done with shots.

2:17 – Portland: Within the first two minutes the Sounders narrowly escaped falling away as Rodney Wallace sliced a one touch tapper past the outside post on a pass from Diego Valeri.  The bottom line is that 2:17 into one the biggest games in Cascadia history and we already saw a moment that we knew was simply a precursor to how this game was going to go.

4:03 – Seattle: Dempsey wasn’t going to allow the Sounders to completely fall by the waist side. This was a statement shot. Something to say “Hey, this isn’t over” and “We’re not giving up yet”. It wasn’t a really dangerous shot but it was an encouraging moment.

5:27 – Seattle: This wasn’t really a memorable shot. Brad Evans just was trying something and doing it a bit further out than what was likely to score. That said I just remember liking that it seemed maybe things weren’t as hopeless as what I had initially thought.

9:20 – Portland: Wallace was his usual pesky self, producing yet another shot. However, this one was much easier to reign down for Gspurning. Wallace is starting to become some other worldly figure in this rivalry. His two headed goals have both A) helped Portland win a draw at home and B) win a draw on the road.  The guy is basically Nick Van Excel to our Gary Payton at this point.

11:07 – Portland: One thing that we really hadn’t seen as Sounder fans, was Darlington Nagbe actually show up big time in match against us…until this season. Basically at this point he’s becoming that playmaker and creative force that we all knew he could be and while it sucks as a Seattle fan, it’s kind of cool as an MLS fan.

14:27 – Portland: Once again, Nagbe shows up huge for the Timbers with a bit of play and another shot that just scoots wide of the far post. This was the point where I was resolved to become calm when Portland scored their first goal. Because this follow-up shot showed that it was inevitability.

18:02 – Portland: The shot by Wallace was blocked and collected by Michael Gspurning in an attempt to put the pressure back on Portland, Gspurning booted the ball down field and Eddie Johnson flicked the pass on to Joseph. Unfortunately Shalrie Joseph losses the ball at the top of the 18 yard box and gives away the prime field position to the Timbers and yet another opportunity to take the lead:

18:42  – Portland: After a failed through ball from Nagbe,  the Timbers create yet another chance on goal with Diego Chara blocking a clearance off the boot from Marc Burch which sputters into the middle of the 18 yard box. Hurtado attempts to screen Valeri and luckily misses out on being called for a penalty after up ending his oppenent. The ball continues to roll and there is so much confusion by the Sounders back line that Rodney ‘I’m really a fullback’ Wallace manages to get to it. His shot is, again, not very good and it happens to hit Gspurning as he is falling down.

28:36 – Portland (GOAL, Will Johnson): This is one of the hardest moments to watch and re-watch and re-watch. Because it’s just such a… it’s just a wtf moment. Djimi Traore sticks up his hand and bats the ball almost not even realizing where he is or what he’s doing, standing just inside the 18-yard box. Of course, Will Johnson burries the PK and the Timbers end up with the score.

This was may the most deflating moment in the game and had it maybe not been so emotionally huge the team perhaps could have come back sooner, but it took the Timbers taking out their vet’s and exposing their club’s tactics to really help the Sounders regain their confidence.

33:17 – Seattle: Eddie Johnson attempted a shot here. It was rather insignificant.

35:36 – Seattle: Evans puts a ball high and just can’t get the curve on it to swing into the upper 90. This should have been a positive moment with the Sounders trying to put shots on goal. It wasn’t. It was a feeling like nothing was going right.

43:08 – Portland (GOAL, Diego Valeri): You could blame Moffat for the turnover in midfield and his lack of hustle on the return. You could blame Alonso for not blocking the shot. You could blame Traore for not getting to the ball from Wallace to Valeri that set-up the shot.

The truth is that Valeri struck the ball perfectly and there was a degree of luck in the shot that when coupled with his skill, just wasn’t going to be stopped. Not that day and certainly not in that situation. It sucks being on the opposing side and I get that. We look for what and who to blame but the problem is while it wasn’t defended against perfectly you can’t point to this situation as having the quality that it could have been stopped.

11:55 PM –The Second Half–

I’m always kind of unsure what to do during half times. I think more than anything this was one of those go pee and sit back down and just kind of sit there detached and stunned.  It wasn’t as if I expected the Sounders to tear down the Timbers lead and cultivate some of their own. I think more than anything I didn’t expect them to be down and making so many mental errors in a match that was held against their rivals.

Back to the match.

45:43 – Portland: Rodney Wallace, again. Shot was blocked. Get a new game Rodney, this one sucks.

46:48 – Portland (GOAL, Footy Danso):  I am legitimately curious on why in the world Danso was in the 18-yard box just making a run like he was EJ, just ballin in the hood. Not only that how does he come into the box, runs through it without being picking up by a midfielder/defender or in this case Djimi Traore? His name seems to be coming up a lot tonight, interesting.

The worst thing about this wasn’t thing about this goal was that evil look and double pumped fist that Porter gave the cameras. It was kind of awful and weird and creepy. Basically, Porter, please don’t ever look happy again.

53:20 – Seattle: Clint Dempsey with another shot that skews wide.

54:33 – Portland: Go away, Wallace. You’re drunk.

55:57 – Portland: I guess because Rodney Wallace does it Michael Harrington thinks he can too. He thinks wrong. It was a terrible take and it was wide with a slice that made you wonder if would just continue slicing and go out of bounds before getting to the backline.

62:33 – Portland: Believe it or not, this was Portlands very last shot of the match, and it belongs to Will Johnson. This is the last point you could really point to as the Timbers really

63:34 – Seattle: Brad Evans missed right in the first half, why not just miss left this time. Things are obviously not going well.

73:05 – Seattle (GOAL, DeAndre Yedlin) : Yedlin wasn’t even sure the ball went in at first. It was like he had heat stroke and didn’t know what to do. It was a good effort, though and I loved to see him run straight back to the midfield for another kick-off.

75:01 – Seattle (GOAL, Eddie Johnson) : This was a dual great moment. First, Yedlin delivered a great cross from the wing. Second,  we got to see a bit of maturity here from Eddie Johnson. Again, like Yedlin before him, he gave a bit of a pump up and instead of taking away time ran back to midfield for the kick-off.

This was a moment filled with false hope and yet I think everyone was alright with it. It’s possible that these back-to-back goals may have even saved Sigi’s job. It’s one thing to rolling out of the playoffs losing to your rivals. It’s quite another to be hammered the way they were in the first half.

The final 5 shots…

It’s not really important that we cover any of these shots individually. It’s possible that in another time and space and planet that the Sounders have one of those 5 shots go in to the goal. Then there is another future where the Sounders lost 6-1.  I’m not going complain.

76:24 – Seattle: Clint Dempsey (blocked)

76:50 – Seattle: Eddie Johnson (miss)

79:54 – Seattle: Eddie Johnson (parried)

82:28 – Seattle: Clint Dempsey (blocked)

88:26 – Seattle: Clint Dempsey (miss)

The bottom line and takeaway for me is that the Sounders didn’t do enough to produce more shots or play sure handed defense. You’re not going to many win games when you can’t play complete games, especially in the playoffs. What’s worse is their shot ratio isn’t bad. It’s more an issue that no one is there on the rebounds and most often, they play much of the game without being able to hit the keeper on a consistent basis.

Friday, 1:05 AM —Post-Match—

There are a lot of various complaints pertaining to this match. They range from Sigi Schmid needs to be fired to our entire defense sucks and why is Martins always hurt? Some of these complaints are legit others are just ranting, frustrated and disappointed over how the season ended. Those of us who have been around Seattle know this feeling and have experienced it far too often. It’s kind of why, in general, we are all so temperamental when it comes to sports in our great city.

I’ll be watching the discussion brew on Sounder[at]Heart over the next week as they profile the situation with Schmid. Dave Clark is especially good at analyzing all the various factors that should and needs to be reviewed rather than just taking on one side of the discussion and carrying the torch to burn him to the ground. He’s posed an excellent question once or twice on twitter or other various formats…”If not Sigi, then who?” It’s a thinker and one that has me pretty stumped.

Anyways, I think this it’s a critical aspect to consider, as too many people have just settled in on one side of this situation rather than acknowledge there are multiple facets of this conversation and in the end there probably isn’t a “right answer” to go with. There is also timing to consider and the fact that he’s meant a lot to the community as much as he has to the organization.

Beyond the storyline of who will lead the Sounders from the coach’s box next season, I’m sure in the next few weeks we’ll be hearing new Clint Dempsey rumors on his loan deal for the off-season.  I’m not so quick to assume he’ll head back to England but that, at this point, just seems to be the most likely situation. However, we aren’t likely to know any or all the details until late December-early January time frame.

Over all I think it’s important to remember that the Sounders weren’t terrible through the playoffs. I believe in large part they were their own worst enemy with poor decision making, unlucky shots—both for and against—and some poor timed/placed turnovers.

Next season doesn’t necessarily guarantee to fix any of those problems. However, some of those items you just have to chalk up to regression and another part to taking some time off to get mentally straight. There isn’t a lot of off-season to be hand and with that I’d expect it to be rather busy for Adrian Hanuer and Joe Roth. They have huge decisions to make and I do not envy their burden.

Last but possibly most important is that this playoff series has an incredible special meaning that will likely be lost for a bit. Things that are recent often have a way of escaping our memory.  The last time Seattle-Portland faced in the playoffs it was 1991 and in a different sport. Ironically, Seattle was led by non-other than… Eddie Johnson, averaging 24 points a game with 4.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.4 steals.  Stretching for more parallels, the Sonics lost the series 3-2 the same score the Sounders lost out to the Timbers, Thursday night.

The Sounders and Timbers didn’t need more to moments to build off their rivalry. It’s already the jewel of MLS with easily the two best supporters in the league. That’s not in an effort to put down any other club supporters; it’s just a matter of how ravenous the culture is in this region. But, while MLS or the two clubs didn’t need the game to make the rivalry “any more special” than what it already is, it added to the rich history and cultivated something more than just two fans bases that don’t like each other. It’s these games that are going to be remembering 5, 10, even 20 years down the road. These are the matches that we will point back to and remember that DeAndre Yedlin,Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey didn’t give up in the dying moments. We’ll talk about Diego Valeri playing on one leg and giving a heroic performance while Darlington Nagbe and Donovan Rickets gave lights-out performances.

While it’s a bit unfair some, and maybe even most, have forgotten the first MLS match between both Seattle and Portland back in 2011; the first competitive meeting in the top level league since the days of NASL nearly 20 years ago, a game where Alvaro Fernandez scores his most important goal in his tenure with the club.

The match ended appropriately level as it seems from that match the two sides will forever be locked in a see-saw war. The Sounders have had the edge the last two season but the Timbers have used this season to gain an edge and have finally struck back. This sets a new precedent for the two clubs going forward and it will only make games in the future that much more important. The off-season isn’t even here yet, but I can’t wait for the 2014 schedule to be released and see our first fixture with the Timbers.