By John Boyle Herald Writer
TUKWILA — A last-minute letdown meant an extra half hour of work for the Seattle Sounders, but it wasn’t enough to keep them from advancing to the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup.
Because apparently two games in a week wasn’t enough for American soccer’s best rivalry, the Sounders conceded a stoppage-time goal to the Portland Timbers, leading to 30 minutes of extra time between teams who will face off again Sunday in MLS play.
Despite blowing a lead at end of regulation, the Sounders came away with a 3-1 victory in front of 4,233 at the Starfire Sports Complex thanks to goals by Kenny Cooper and Marco Pappa in extra time. The win sends the Sounders the Open Cup semifinals for the seventh time in eight years having reached that round as a USL team in 2007 and 2008, and having won it all in 2009, 2010 and 2011 before losing the in 2012 final.
“It was obviously disappointing, because we thought we could win it in regulation,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said of conceding a late goal. “It meant we had to work extra, but I told the guys, ‘So we’ve got to do it the hard way, we’ll do it the hard way.’ That’s just the way it turned out tonight.”
After Osvaldo Alonso put Seattle ahead in the 69th minute, it looked like the Sounders were on their way to victory without the need for extra time or a shootout, both of which were required in last month’s Open Cup win over San Jose. But the game took a dramatic turn in stoppage time when Darlington Nagbe scored off an assist from former Sounder Steve Zakuani.
It was probably fitting that in such a physical game, Alonso opened the scoring with something that looked like move out of a kung fu movie. After more than an hour of mostly rough and not-so-aesthetically pleasing soccer, Evans played a back-heel pass to Lamar Neagle, who hit a cross in front of the goal. Momentarily it looked as if Neagle’s pass would sail harmlessly by Portland’s goal. But then Alonso came in with a flying karate kick, catching the ball with the outside of his right foot to sneak a shot past Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, who got a hand on piece of the ball, but not enough of it.
Alonso then grabbed the ball and tucked it under his jersey, a gesture for his wife who is expecting the couple’s third child.
“She’s pregnant, we’re waiting for another baby, so I’m very happy to get the goal for them,” he said.
That goal was almost enough for Seattle, but after Nagbe beat Neagle to a loose ball in the final moments of stoppage time, he dribbled into the box before playing a quick give-and-go with Zakuani, who teed up his former University of Akron teammate for the tying goal.
Portland nearly equalized on a couple of occasions prior to Nagbe’s goal, most notably in the 84th minute when Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei made a pair of saves to momentarily preserve the lead.
Neither team created much early in extra time, but things changed after Portland’s Diego Chara was shown a red card for a hard tackle on Pappa in the 99th minute. Seattle reclaimed the lead in the 111th minute when Cooper headed in a long cross from Gonzalo Pineda. Seattle added an insurance goal from Pappa in the 116th minute to clinch the win that temporarily escaped them at the end of regulation.
“That can be demoralizing at the end of the game,” said Cooper, who got the game-winner against his former team. “But I didn’t see anyone put their heads down. Guys came out and just kept battling away.”
The Sounders will host the Chicago Fire in the semifinals on August 13 at Starfire, a return to the late stages of the knockout tournament that crowns the champion of club soccer in the U.S. a year after a surprising early-round exit to the lower-division Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Prior to the late-game drama, things unfolded about how you’d expect a rivalry game played on a crammed field to go—it was physical, not particularly thrilling soccer with more fouls than chances. Portland was whistled for eight first-half fouls, while Seattle had four and each team picked up a yellow card in the game’s first 23 minutes.
Yet the first half wasn’t devoid of scoring chances. The Timbers twice forced Sounders goalkeeper Frei into diving saves, both time on long-range shots off the right foot of forward Gaston Fernandez.
The Sounders had their moments as well, with their best chance coming in the 22nd minute when Brad Evans found Cam Weaver with a cross in the box, but Weavers shot hit the post.
The game also featured the return of DeAndre Yedlin, who was a breakout star for the U.S. national team at the World Cup, and who is now the subject of numerous transfer rumors. Yedlin proved as adept at running past Timbers players as he did Belgians a week ago, and was involved in several encouraging buildups, though none led to goals.
Fans also serenaded Yedlin, who turned 21 Wednesday, with a halftime performance of “Happy Birthday.”
“He said he felt fine,” Schmid said of the decision to use Yedlin less than a week after he returned from Brazil. “He’s still 20 years old, or 21 now, and we felt he’s a guy who could play tonight and turn it around again for Sunday.
“I thought he played well. I thought he was very sharp, especially in the first half. He made some good runs forward.”
These two teams will go at it again Sunday in front of more than 60,000 at CenturyLink Field, and the Sounders hope they can build off of Wednesday’s result.
“Hopefully this gives us momentum going into the weekend,” Cooper said. “It’s another big game. They obviously have a lot of quality, and you’ve got to give them credit for fighting back the way they did. Hopefully we carry some confidence and momentum into the weekend.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.