By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
PORTLAND — The Seattle Sounders thought they deserved a better fate than their 1-0 loss to the Portland Timbers on Sunday.
But that doesn’t change the cold mathematics of the Major League Soccer season, which shows them sliding in the standings and still uncertain of a playoff berth with two regular-season games remaining.
“I thought we battled all the way to the very last minute — with 10 men — and hit the bar twice, and with a little more luck we would have taken the lead in that game,” goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann said. “Obviously frustrating, especially at the end of the game and they put standings up on the scoreboard and you see Portland kind of goes in front of us.”
Marcus Hahnemann? Ten men?
Yes. For the first time in club history, the Sounders benched their No. 1 keeper for performance, starting Hahnemann in place of Michael Gspurning. The Sounders also played the final 16 minutes a man down after midfielder Osvaldo Alonso drew a straight red card for throwing an elbow.
Hahnemann faced three on-target shots, and he saved two of them.
The one that got past him came just seconds before halftime, when Portland sent a cross into the box. The ball landed amid a cluster of bodies and continued to the foot of Kalif Alhassan, who scored from the top of the area.
“I always take the first couple of steps to see if I can come and get it,” Hahnemann said. “… It was too low; I would have had to come through about three or four guys. And so I got back into position. And unlucky for us, it goes right to their guy and he smashes it into the corner. Super frustrating.”
There were frustrations on the attacking end too, as the Sounders put three shots on target and two off of the crossbar.
In the 13th minute, Lamar Neagle sent a header toward the top corner, where goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts acrobatically knocked it away. A minute later, Clint Dempsey banged a header off the bar. Finally in stoppage time, Steve Zakuani reached a loose ball near the penalty spot, but his shot deflected off a defender and then off the crossbar.
“I think I hit it pretty good,” Zakuani said. “I was just trying to keep it low, which I did. But once it hits the guy’s knee, it just ends up going anywhere. That’s just the way it was today.”
Portland (13-5-14) pulled even with New York atop of the MLS standings and stands alone at the top of the Western Conference. Meanwhile, Seattle’s third straight loss and fifth straight winless game dropped them to 15-11-6. That’s good for third place in the West, two points behind Portland and one behind Real Salt Lake. But it’s also just four points from sixth place and playoff elimination.
The result also clinched the 2013 Cascadia Cup for Vancouver.
“We’re disappointed for our fans that we weren’t able to bring that home,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “We didn’t lose the Cascadia Cup tonight; we lost the Cascadia Cup on Wednesday.”
That was a reference to Seattle’s 4-1 loss to the Whitecaps, which followed a 5-1 loss at Colorado. Schmid and the Sounders thought their work Sunday at least showed improvement from those performances.
“We seem to be a little bit snakebit,” Schmid said. “For sure … if we would have played with the effort we had tonight the last two games we wouldn’t be in the position right now. I was proud of the effort.”
Seattle returns to action Saturday at FC Dallas. Alonso will miss that one due to yellow card suspension. Schmid didn’t commit to which goalkeeper would start in Texas. And he had no prognosis on Dempsey, who left in the 77th minute with a shoulder sprain.
There also was no update on the injuries that kept forwards Obafemi Martins and Eddie Johnson out Sunday. But midfielder Brad Evans could be back after missing two games on international duty.