Nov 8, 2018; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Sounders FC fans perform a pregame march to CenturyLink Field before a playoff game against the Portland Timbers. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
SEATTLE – In a match that featured five goals, the biggest fireworks of all came from the penalty spot as the Portland Timbers beat the Seattle Sounders in the second leg of the Western Conference semifinals 4-4 on aggregate and 4-2 on penalty kicks after 120 minutes at CenturyLink Field.
“Obviously, we’re down now so the end result was not good, but certainly there were moments of joy, euphoria, happiness, thinking you had the game in control,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said after the match. “Then you have that snatched away. It’s always challenging. It’s always hard, but the one constant between all the ups and downs was the fight of the group. When things were low they picked themselves up. During the highs they — you could tell, you could see it on the field — they were in that moment, but at the end of the day Portland is going through.”
Portland will now advance to the Western Conference finals to play the winner of Sunday’s semifinal between Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City. The first leg and second legs of the final will be Nov. 25 and 29, respectively.
The penalties came at the end of a back-and-forth match that will be installed as an instant classic. Lucas Melano, Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco all scored from the spot for Portland, while Raul Ruidiaz’s conversion in the lead-off spot for Seattle gave way to a Will Bruin shot off the post and a Jeff Attinella save against Osvaldo Alonso.
Handwalla Bwana, 21, cast a glimmer of light on Seattle’s conference final hopes with a short run-up and slowly-converted ball to the right side with Seattle’s fourth kick, but Portland’s Dairon Asprilla slammed the door shut moments later with a ball hit down the middle that powered past Sounders keeper Stefan Frei to the delight of his teammates at midfield.
Nicolas Lodeiro, who converted a penalty to keep the aggregate score level in extra time, was slotted to shoot fifth for Seattle but never got the chance.
“He wanted to be number five,” Schmetzer said of the Uruguayan. “When you have a senior team — the only guy that’s not a senior in the group is Handwalla, I stuck him in there — but the rest of the guys want to shoot. Raul wanted to shoot first. Will wanted to shoot second. Ozzie wanted to shoot. I leave it up to the senior players. I have a list of who I think should take them, then I go around and I ask them. I look them in the eye and I say, ‘Do you want to take a penalty?’ and gauge their response and then write their names down. Those guys were pretty firm about taking the kicks.”
The match entering penalties was the result of another Seattle comeback, similar to the one the club was forced to undergo in the regular season.
Seattle opened the scoring in the 68th minute, when Portland keeper Attinella spilled a cross right in front of Harry Shipp. The ball bounced away from both before Ruidiaz powered it in to the back of the net to give Seattle a road goal advantage on the 2-2 aggregate.
The Timbers erased that advantage in the 78th minute. After receiving a short pass from Asprilla, Blanco took a touch and buried a shot on the ground to the far-side netting, through traffic in the penalty area.
With time dwindling, Ruidiaz settled under an attempted clearance by Blanco and volleyed it into the net, powering it past Attinella with a driven effort that caused an eruption from the crowd in the 93rd minute. Ruidiaz’ brace meant Seattle finished regulation time 2-1 over Portland and 3-3 on aggregate scoring.
Two minutes into the first 15-minute period of extra time, Asprilla slipped free of both Seattle centerbacks at the back post on an early cross from Valeri to give the visitors the advantage.
Seattle, which had made several appeals to referee Jair Marrufo for penalties during the match, finally got Marrufo to point to the spot in the 96th minute after a ball bounced off Blanco’s arm. Lodeiro converted the penalty low and to the left to take a 3-2 lead and level 4-4 on aggregate.
The Sounders thought they had scored the game-winner in the 113th minute, when a cross from the right side bounced off Ruidiaz and into Portland’s goal, but Marrufo and assistant referee Ian Anderson ruled the ball had come off the Peruvian’s elbow.
“Obviously, we didn’t achieve our objective,” Schmetzer said. “But, after you say that statement, because it’s a fact, you also add some other facts to the narrative of the team. … MLS is a good league. It’s growing. More teams are entering. More money is entering. It’s a hard league. That team, right there, put nine games in a row together. They put together, statistically, the best half of a season ever in history at 14-2-1. You cannot take that away from that group. Each one of those guys would trade one of those two records to continue to play.
“Tonight, they never quit. That’s testament to the mentality you’re trying to establish in this club. We’ve always been a big club, we’ve always been a winning club. If we play like that, we’ll have many more years of success.”