PORTLAND, Ore. — On the heels of Wednesday’s game in Mexico City, the Portland Timbers’ Sunday derby against Seattle Sounders FC was always going to be demanding. Not only was the game a quick turnaround and the culmination of five games in 15 days, but it was against Portland’s biggest rivals - a team that came into the weekend with the best record in Major League Soccer.
For much of the day’s match, the Timbers met that challenge, though in sports, there’s no column in the standings for “much of the match.” With their 2-1 loss, Portland fell to 1-3-0 on the season, and combined with Concacaf Champions League play, the team is winless in their last four games.
“We always want to be a team that wins every game,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said, “especially when you play Seattle in this big derby, clasico - these big games that we have always against Seattle. And they never disappoint.
“Today was a battle like every single game that we play against Seattle, and I think, unfortunately, things didn't go our way, even though we were the better team on the field; even though we created good moments and we played very well, today.”
Though the game was far from one-sided, the Timbers dictated play through the match’s first hour, pinning Seattle in their defensive third for stretches while slowly, as that hour went on, posing more danger in front of Stefan Frei’s goal.
The culmination of that pressure led to Portland’s first major chance of the game. It also started an eight-minute sequence that turned the match on its head. When that sequence was over, the Timbers were left with missed chances, a one-goal deficit and, ultimately, a loss at home.
55th minute: The Timbers had spent the eight previous minutes teasing fans, threading passes through Seattle’s defense before losing possession when it was time to shoot. Jeremy Ebobisee and Marvin Loría did manage to get shots off, but close calls for Diego Valeri and Yimmi Chara left attacks to finish amid supporters’ disappointment.
But it was another non-shot that nearly produced a Portland breakthrough, though the reason that Ebobisse wasn’t able to get another try off a foul called on Seattle’s Shane O’Neill. Though some Sounders complained, those complaints felt obligatory – almost half-hearted. Nobody was surprised when the day’s referee, Chris Penso, pointed to the spot.
57th minute: According to the expected goals metrics on MLSSoccer.com, Diego Valeri’s penalty shot had a 79 percent chance of being converted. Timbers fans may have felt even better about their chances. It was hard to remember the last time Valeri didn’t convert from the spot, and after he confidently beat Club América’s Guillermo Ochoa mid-week in Mexico, replicating that feat felt almost assured.
But when Valeri went to the right side of goal with his attempt, Frei was already there, saving then smothering the Timbers’ captain’s attempt. It was almost too easy, the way Frei saved the shot, and turned out there was a reason.
Moments after Frei’s save, the video official recommended Penso’s review. After returning from the sideline replay monitor, Penso pointed again to the spot. Frei had come off his line too early. Valeri was given another shot.
59th minute: There was no way Valeri would fail to convert a second penalty. That’s how it felt as he lined up his second shot. Valeri had gone low and right with his first attempt. In Mexico, he went high and left. Surely, he would return to what worked.
With his second attempt, Valeri did switch sides, and though he went low, he beat Frei. Unfortunately, Valeri went too wide, hit the left upright, and saw his putback waved off because Frei had failed to touch the initial shot. When Frei restarted play from just outside his six-yard box Valeri was 0-for-2.
“It’s tough,” Bill Tuiloma, the Timbers’ goalscorer, said of the missed penalty kicks. “That's football for you. You miss some, you score some. It obviously was unfortunate, but we had to keep our minds set and keep on going through the game.”
61st minute: Perhaps it was appropriate that, after the Timbers had two chances from the spot, the Sounders were given at least one. That Seattle’s chance came almost immediately after Portland failed to break through felt preordained, though – the type of “of course that happened” moment we only seem to notice in sports.
The “that” in this case was another Penso call, whistled against Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella for a foul in front of his goal.
“You have sometimes some days you don't get some things in your favor that you're supposed to get,” Savarese said, “or you're getting against when maybe those things shouldn’t be given away. But you have to manage that, because it's part of the game, as well. And people can make mistakes. You have to just do your job on the field.”
“There are things in the game that didn’t go our way that were unfortunately out of our control,” he’d say later in his post-match press conference.
63rd minute: Unlike Valeri, Ruidíaz had no trouble from the spot. Confidently and powerfully, the Peruvian drove his shot into the right of goal, sending Attinella the opposite way in the process. After being close to a breakthrough over the half’s first 15 minutes, Portland was shockingly down a goal.
Though Portland was controlling play for most of the first hour, it wasn’t as if they were clearly the better team. According to numbers available on MLSSoccer.com, the Sounders’ shots had a higher expected goals rate than the Timbers’ before Valeri’s penalty kick. Portland may have been dictating play, but Seattle’s chances were just as good. The match was close.
That’s why those eight minutes mattered so much. From a game that saw the visitors holding the home team at arm’s length, resisting their control while firing an occasional counterpunch, the game went from Portland’s to Seattle’s, and then never turned back. Additional goals from Fredy Montero and Tuiloma made the score 2-1, but the match was defined by the minutes that made it 1-0.
“Unfortunately, the score doesn't show what we gave to the game,” Savarese said, “because my team, today, played very well and deserved for sure more than what we got.”
Recapping 2021's first Portland-Seattle derby:
- HIGHLIGHTS | Second-half chaos the difference at Providence Park
- BLOW-BY-BLOW | Recapping Sunday's Portland-Seattle battle
- MEDIA | Watch Giovanni Savarese's post-match press conference
- WATCH | Tuiloma talks late goal, derby challenges
- FARLEY | The eight minutes that defined Portland's loss to Seattle
- Day in pictures | Views from a Mother's Day derby in Portland
- #StatMan Three | Ebobisse makes first start of the season
- WATCH | Tuiloma goes over the wall for late goal vs. Seattle