By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
SEATTLE — The Seattle Sounders seemed on their way to wrapping up a terrific week.
On Tuesday, they had advanced in CONCACAF Champions League. On Friday, they had introduced designated player Obafemi Martins. And on Saturday, they were minutes away from their first win of the MLS season against their archrival, the Portland Timbers.
However, the Timbers altered that script by scoring in the first seconds of stoppage time and grabbing a 1-1 draw before a crowd of 40,150 at CenturyLink Field.
The Cascadia Cup matchup was the centerpiece of what Major League Soccer dubbed “Rivalry Week,” and the tie on the road was a boon for defending Cascadia Cup champion Portland. The Timbers, Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps vie each year to be the “Cascadia” region’s top team.
“It would have felt much better feeling waking up (today) with three points,” Seattle midfielder Steve Zakuani said. “It’s football. It happens. It’s a long season and you have a lot of ups and downs, and we have to suffer this down for tonight. … We know we were close to getting the three points. That’s why it hurts so much: We were so close to it.”
Seattle jumped ahead in the 13th minute, when Zakuani made a 50-yard run down the left side before sending a cross that Eddie Johnson finished at the far post.
“I was 1-v-1 with my guy, just trying to take him in and out,” Johnson said. “I faked like I was going in, and Steve put it to the back post, and I was wide open. It was one of those goals where we have the relationship and understand how each other play.”
Seattle held the lead from there as their fans’ anticipation built.
The game took on even more of a celebratory feel in the 70th minute, when Martins was sent on to make his Sounders debut — one day after traveling from Spain to London and on to Seattle.
He admitted feeling tired, but almost made the debut a memorable one by sending a pass across the goalmouth, but it rolled just beyond Johnson’s reach.
That near-miss came back to haunt Seattle when Portland’s Andrew Baptiste lifted a ball into open space in the Seattle penalty area, and Rodney Wallace knocked the ball past goalkeeper Michael Gspurning.
“I’m real happy with (Wallace), but it was a team effort,” Portland coach Caleb Porter said. “Everybody, at the end of the game, I thought really went to another level. It wasn’t pretty, but they dug deep, they battled, they fought, never gave up, never quit.”
The goal ignited a roar from three sections of Timbers supporters clustered in the northeast corner of the upper deck, while sending Sounders fans home feeling they had lost two points in the MLS and Cascadia Cup standings.
“The first 20-25 minutes, I thought we were good,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “I thought we stretched them and created some chances, got our goal as well. After, that I think we let them into the game a little bit. I think our play was a little bit too slow. (The Timbers) were more ambitious in winning the 50-50 balls than we were. That certainly turned the tide of the game.”
Portland (0-1-2) took 13 shots to Seattle’s seven. The Timbers also won 51.2 percent of the duels and held 78 percent of the possession.
The result leaves Seattle at 0-1-1 after opening the season with two home games against teams that missed the playoffs last season. Next, the Sounders head out for a pair of road games against teams that did make the playoffs: San Jose on Saturday and Real Salt Lake on March 30.
“Sometimes going on the road is easier because they have to come out at us,” Zakuani said. “… It’s a reality that we’ve played two games at home and we’ve got one point so far. But we’ve still got 15 home games, and that’s a very long time; and we still have 32 games. Nobody here is panicking.”