By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
SEATTLE — A 2-1 loss at home has rarely been as welcomed as it was by the Seattle Sounders on Saturday at CenturyLink Field.
That’s became they went into the final minute of regulation trailing 2-0.
Then Osvaldo Alonso knocked in a goal. And even through the Portland Timbers still headed home winners, the Sounders saw that late score as cutting in half the hill they must climb when the aggregate-goal, two-leg series resolves Thursday in Oregon.
“The goal at the end of the game was very important for us because it gives us an opportunity to go down there to win,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “… Whatever you want to look at — corner kicks, things like that – I think we showed that we can carry the game to them. So we just have to go down to Portland, carry it to them, and go down and score.”
The Sounders took twice as many shots as Portland, and dominated possession and other attacking categories.
However, the Timbers broke ahead in the 15th minute, when Ryan Johnson got his head on a cross from Jack Jewsbury and redirected it in from a tight angle.
“We always believe if we score the first goal, we’re going to win the game,” Johnson said. “…“It was a good weighted ball, and I did good enough to redirect it and it was a good finish.”
The Sounders almost answered five minutes later, when Clint Dempsey sent a free kick to a top corner, but Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts managed to knock it over the bar. Dempsey had another near chance a few minutes later, but this time he sent the free kick just high.
Portland’s one-goal lead lingered into the 67th minute, when the Timbers connected again. This time Darlington Nagbe created space with a sharp turn away from defender Djimi Traore and beat goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann from close range.
“It was a great first touch and a great finish,” Jewsbury said. “He’s an unbelievable talent and a guy that’s come along for us this year. I’m just so happy for him because he’s such a great kid on and off the field as well.”
After that, Seattle had several chances to lessen its load for the resolution match. An Eddie Johnson header went just wide, a Dempsey rebound from 10 yards was fired wide, and in the closing minutes a Dempsey header bounced off the crossbar.
Nothing got through until the final minute of regulation when Brad Evans made a long throw-in, which Shalrie Joseph headed on to Alonso, who fired past Ricketts. It ended a streak of 371 shutout minutes for the Timbers.
“We had some offensive opportunities that we missed,” Alonso said. “But we were able to score the late goal, and that gives us an opportunity on Thursday.”
Seattle was without two players who had started the midweek win over Colorado. Right back DeAndre Yedlin was held out due to an ankle injury suffered against the Rapids. And Hahnemann was forced into the starting role due to No. 1 keeper Michael Gspurning picking up a red card in Seattle’s knockout round victory over Colorado.
Gspurning will be eligible for the resolution game, which starts at 8 p.m. Thursday at Jeld-Wen Field. And Schmid indicated Yedlin will return. However, midfielder Lamar Neagle will miss that second leg after picking up his second yellow card of the postseason.
Over its history, Seattle has been overrun in first legs, 9-1. The Sounders have done better in the second leg, outscoring opponents, 6-4. However, they have lost four of those five previous series.
“You don’t want to go home, and you don’t want it to end,” Dempsey said. “We have to make sure we get the job done and I think we have the quality and with a few days’ more rest because we’ve kind of been running and gunning here of late maybe that will help us do that.”