After a week in which their lack of goal-scoring was thrust to the forefront, it would be the defense that ultimately undid the Sounders in another critical home match that got away.
They’d generated late-week headlines by signing Peruvian striker Raul Ruidiaz to aid a slumbering attack, but needed a win Saturday at home against the archrival Portland Timbers to avoid falling too far back of a playoff spot before he even takes the field come mid-July. Instead, in a freewheeling second half that resulted in five goals, the Sounders wound up on the short end of a 3-2 score that severely hampers their playoff hopes before the July schedule even begins.
Larrys Mabiala scored twice on headers, including the eventual winner in the 74th minute off a Diego Valeri cornerkick. Valeri wound up assisting on all three Portland goals, including a 57th minute gem by Samuel Armenteros.
Victor Rodriguez scored his first of the season for the Sounders while Chad Marshall added another. Nicolas Lodeiro assisted on both goals a day after the team announced he’d been extended through 2021 to pair with Ruidiaz in what should be a formidable attack for years to come.
As for the immediate future, though, with the Sounders falling to 3-9-3 and having started the day 11 points out of a playoff spot, things are looking bleak.
“This is a really tough loss. This is going to sting for a long time,” said Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer. “Our current state of affairs is not good — we have to be realistic. We’ve really put ourselves in a hole.
“We’re not going to give up,” Schmetzer added. “We’re going to keep trying to train well and see if we can start winning a couple of games to make the gap smaller.”
The Sounders introduced Ruidiaz pregame to the season-high CenturyLink Field crowd of 47,521, which roared its approval. It would be the loudest the crowd got for some time as the Timbers did a good job of shutting down the Sounders early on.
Portland enjoyed the better scoring chances in the first half and only some huge stops by backup goalkeeper Bryan Meredith — starting in place of injured Stefan Frei — prevented the visitors from jumping ahead. First, Meredith punched away a close-range blast from Dairon Asprilla, and then, on the ensuing cornerkick, deflected a header by Mabiala at the last second with a well-timed leap to keep the ball out of the net.
After heading to halftime scoreless, the teams broke the scoreless draw early in the second half with a frenetic 20 minutes of play that resulted in four goals.
Mabilala got another header chance in the 48th minute and didn’t miss this one, putting it behind Meredith for a 1-0 lead. But the Sounders tied it up less than three minutes later as Lodeiro sent a long cross through the box towards a streaking Rodriguez flying in from the left side.
The ball somehow made its way past a defender without being deflected and went straight to Rodriguez, who headed it home to make it 1-1. But the Timbers regained the lead in the 57th minute when Armanteros completely undressed left back Waylon Francis before uncorking a left-footed blast by Meredith.
Once again, the Sounders fought back to equalize. This time, off a Lodeiro cornerkick, Marshall got his head into the ball and sent it past goalkeeper Jeff Antinella in the 68th minute to make it a 2-2 game.
But the Timbers regained the lead fewer than six minutes after that, with Mabiala again getting a header away off a Valeri cornerkick and sending it past Meredith.
First-year Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese was aware this his team had never won in Seattle, but that was not foremost in his mind.
“For me, the most important part was the three points,” he said. “We were able to do it on a difficult field. There was not a moment of doubt that the guys were going to find a solution and go forward and score because that was the belief of all the guys. And then Mabalia was very strong. To be the marshal is not easy. He was able to do it, and it was very important for us.”