There are few victories in Portland Timbers' soccer as sweet as ones celebrated at CenturyLink Field, although given recent results, the Timbers might be getting used to the occasion. Thanks to two goals on Sunday from Brian Fernandez, Portland left the home of the Seattle Sounders celebrating for the third time in a row, their 2-1 win handing the club's fiercest rivals a home loss for the first time in Major League Soccer play this season.
"There was always a belief that we could do the job today," head coach Giovanni Savarese told FOX Sports immediately after the game. "There was always the belief that we had the chance to get three points, but also, we need the three points to continue to go higher in the table."
The team had drawn at home to the Colorado Rapids and Orlando City SC in the week leading into tonight's derby, results that gave away four points which, given the location and the competition, the Timbers should have expected to pick up. Much like the match two weeks ago at New York City FC, the win in Seattle helps offset those stumbles, with the Timbers taking full points where most would be fortunate to get one.
"They have a great team," team captain Diego Valeri said, explaining, "(Facing Seattle is) always a tough game.
"I think we performed really well. We got some luck that we scored the second goal at the right moment, and then we tried to manage the game positionally, (by playing) deeper. And then, we won a super game."
Much like the game in New York, or the July 10 U.S. Open Cup victory at Los Angeles FC, the impact of Portland's performance will be undersold by MLS' standings. After Sunday's win, the team is still outside of the playoff spots, albeit by only two points. But with victories over the last two weeks at the league's best teams, Portland's establishing themselves as the proverbial team you don't want to face: a squad which, no matter your form or theirs, can use their game-breaking attackers to make favorites out of underdogs.
This is a game Seattle was positioned to win. It was at CenturyLink. Their players had all returned from last month's international duties. They were missing two important attacking parts (Victor Rodríguez and Will Bruin) but they'd yet to lose their starting left back, Brad Smith, at the end of his loan, and their rivals had played only 72 hours before. Everything was lined up for the Sounders to retake second place in the conference, yet somehow, and for the third time in a row, the Timbers leave "the CLink" undeterred.
Beyond the final score, here's What We'll Remember most about Portland's night in Seattle.
Fernandez shines in first/second derby
The Timbers' new Designated Player had already gotten a taste of the Portland-Seattle dynamic last month, though to say his two-goal night in Tacoma during Open Cup play revealed Cascadia's tensions would be like claiming an amuse bouche could exemplify an eight-course meal. If June 12's match showed him anything, it was that more was surely to come.
And did it ever. Sunday's match started with Seattle's pressure pinning Portland in their defensive third, with that position slowly alleviating as the first moments' energy faded. Once it did, the Timbers' style began to shine through, a process that culminated with Fernandez putting home a 20th-minute rebound to notch the night's first score.
More memorable, though, will be the Argentine's second goal; or, perhaps, the timing of it. Officially scored one minute after Seattle's early second-half equalizer, Fernandez's fourth goal against the Sounders ensured his team played as few minutes possible on even terms. Once, in the first half, Portland came into the game, they found an opening goal. Once, in the second half, Seattle pulled even, Fernandez pushed his team back in front.
Consider it another chapter in Fernandez's Portland story, one that's already added tales of his goal-scoring streak and the team's summer turnaround. Among the many things the spring signing's initial months will be remembered for, though, early success against Seattle may be near the top.
For Clark, the saves were the easy part
We'll also remember the Seattle goal, one where Raúl Ruídaz was able to finish into an empty net after the Timbers' goalkeeper tried to defend the space between his backline and goal. A small touch backward from Julio Cascante had put Steve Clark in an unenviable position, one that might lead some to criticize the Timbers playing a high defensive line. But if you're going to live with the virtues of that approach – as the Timbers have for much of the summer – you have to ride out the occasional bobble. The scales are still vastly tipped toward the high line's virtues.
There was one other moment of uncertainty, though, with Ruídaz missing another empty goal early, from inside the six-yard box. Aside from that, the penalty area was Clark's. Rather than dominate the match through saved shots, Clark did so by policing that space behind his line, bravely going into aerial challenges against Seattle's attackers, and otherwise dealing with wide-to-in action that forced him to face the sidelines for much of the match. Though Clark ended the night with seven saves, his most memorable contributions meant preventing crosses and through balls from becoming more shots.
When he ascended to the No. 1's spot earlier this year, there was still a debate as to whether Clark or incumbent Jeff Attinella deserved the starter's gloves. Perhaps, from the outside, that debate was resolved through inertia more than any side-by-side evidence, but Sunday's game certainly provided more information.
Even in a game where Portland's high line got burned for an equalizer, Clark showed why he might be the best person to make that approach work. With each game, it becomes more evident how important Clark's been to the Timbers' results.
Three times, a charm
I suppose technically, the record books will say June's game in Tacoma is part of the streak, but it was in Tacoma, and in that Open Cup game, Seattle played a heavy-rotated squad. Victory there didn't carry the weight of tonight's result, nor the penalty-kick shootout win in last year's postseason, nor the June 30, 2018, victory at CenturyLink – Savarese's first venture to enemy grounds. Those games just meant more.
It's part of the reason why celebrations will be more festive tonight, be they in the bars around Seattle' South Downtown district or in the cars, vans, buses and trains which, over the next 12 hours, will ferry fans home. Just as Sounders fans could enjoy the feeling of their 1-0 victory last August in Goose Hollow, the Timbers Army can savor a small piece of Seattle's pride during their return south.
For Seattle, though, that victory at Providence Park marked the first time in four years they'd won in Portland. The Timbers, now, can be said to be on a roll. Though the official record books record last November's came at "the CLink" as a loss (and this June's match as in another city), this makes fourth straight trips north, that the Timbers have triumphed over the Sounders. And three of those times, they were able to celebrate in the visitor's locker room at CenturyLink Field,