Ryan Johnson (left) scored the opening goal for Portland in the 15th minute. (Ted S. Warren/AP)
Three thoughts on Portland’s 2-1 win at Seattle in the first leg of the MLS quarterfinals:
1) This was exactly what Portland wanted. If you had any questions about Portland’s readiness for its first MLS playoff game, the Timbers answered them early with a razor-sharp goal by Ryan Johnson to put Seattle under pressure from the start. The Timbers may not have as much overall talent as Seattle, but Portland’s chemistry is infinitely better right now. Evidence to that fact was provided in the understanding Caleb Porter’s players showed throughout the game, including on the exchange between Kalif Alhassan and Darlington Nagbe that led to Nagbe’s back-breaker goal in the second half. What’s more, Portland’s centerback pairing of Futty Danso and Pa-Modou Kah was much steadier than their Seattle counterparts, and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts continued to be in good form. While Seattle’s late goal from Osvaldo Alonso will make things more interesting in the second leg, Porter couldn’t have asked for much more from this road game that didn’t feel like a road game for his team.
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2) Seattle’s slide continues. There’s something that doesn’t feel right about this Sounders team, which has underperformed mightily in recent weeks, winning just once in its last nine games. Centerbacks Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Djimi Traoré were a step slow on both Portland goals, and while goal-scorer Alonso was terrific all over the field on Saturday, the rest of the midfield just wasn’t good enough as a unit. Say what you want about Seattle’ change to a diamond midfield, but Sigi Schmid has yet to figure out a way to use Clint Dempsey’s talents to their full potential since he arrived. Combine that with subpar games by Eddie Johnson and Lamar Neagle, and Seattle found itself struggling to create many chances. It almost felt like the boisterous home crowd willed the Sounders to their late lifeline goal, but it’s going to be awfully hard to win down in Portland on Thursday.
3) Thus ends a night of NFL lines.
There were two MLS playoff games in two NFL stadiums on Saturday night, one in Seattle and one in New England. Both were marred by the presence of football lines. In my opinion they didn’t ruin the games, but they did feel like a gut punch to soccer fans after seeing all the gains made by American soccer and MLS in recent years. For those of us who watched MLS in the 1990s, it was a return to the bad old days when we thought we had advanced beyond them in the years of MLS 2.0. If anything, it’s a reminder that there are still a lot of gains to be made in the years ahead. MLS can do better than this.