“Welcome to your funeral,” bellowed intoxicated Timbers supporters as a group of Seattle Sounders fans entered Jeld-Wen Field last Sunday for a battle between two MLS Western Conference powerhouses. The game held heavy playoff implications for both teams taking to the pitch as the season winds down and the playoffs wind up.
The Timbers were without strikers Ryan Johnson and Rodney Wallace, who were both away on international duty, and midfielder Diego Valeri, who was in attendance but did not play. Filling in for the missing strikers was Kalif Alhassan.
The Timbers had a rough and tumble battle with the Sounders, but scored the first and only goal and survived a few close calls including two shots from the Sounders that hit the crossbar, sending the entire crowd into fits of cardiac arrest. The Timbers walked away the victor of the fight (1-0). With the win the Timbers nabbed the top spot in the MLS Western Conference and are tied with the New York Red Bulls for the Supporter’s Shield (the best overall team record).
The army of fans started the night with a “Gut the fish” chant that the Timbers embodied as the scrum started. The first half of the match saw many hard tackles and questionable tactics as the rivals squared off in a tense showdown.
The Timbers walked on to the pitch with a different mentality than years prior. Head coach Caleb Porter explained, “There’s no reason why we would be inferior. There’s no reason why we should be the little brother. We should be capable of beating the Sounders and it not being a miracle.”
Although the first half seemed like it would go down in the books as a wash, the Timbers cracked open the Sounders defense for the first goal of the night. The 45th minute saw a free kick from Will Johnson get cleared away, but it bounced to the waiting Alhassan who blasted it past the helpless Sounders keeper Marcus Hahnemann. The goal sent Alhassan to the corner of the field, who ripped his jersey off and gave the crowd a little celebration two-step.
The first half ended with the Timbers ahead by only one, but with 55% of the first half’s possession and nine attempts on goal.
The second half saw a complete loss of control by the referee after the two teams had a shoving match that ended with the Sounders’ Osvaldo Alonso being awarded a red card for an elbow to Johnson. Several Sounders players were also seen chasing the line judge before a teammate was able to restrain them; a yellow card was given to Sounder Jhon Hurtado as well.
“Anytime you have a rivalry match like this and it means so much, especially where both teams were in the standings, it’s going to get chippy at times and it did,” right back Jack Jewsbury said. “I thought we handled it well. We stuck up for each other, but at the same time we didn’t do anything that hurt the team.”
After the fight, the Timbers held on to their one point lead and sent the Sounders, as the Timbers fans promised, farther down the MLS standings into what could be their funeral if they don’t bounce back from a five game losing streak.
As for the Timbers, Porter was seen smiling in the post-game press conference as he was asked about his team’s reaction to the night’s match. “If there’s a fight, we’re up for a fight,” Porter said. “This team is not soft. I thought they made it a fight and that was no problem for us. We’re not going to back down.”
The Timbers have just two more matches to round out the regular season, the last at Jeld-Wen Field on Saturday Oct. 19th at 7:30pm. The Timbers will be playing the now second place Real Salt Lake, and the game promises to be another fight for the top spot in the Western Conference.