Portland Timbers 3-2 Seattle Sounders
(W.Johnson (pen) 29', Valeri 44', Danso 47'; Yedlin 74', E.Johnson 76')
FINAL THOUGHTS: It wasn't even close, despite the scoreline. Darlington Nagbe hurdled across the ground fastened gyroscopically to the ball. Diego Chara's clockwork hips kept on calculating new angles through the Sounders defense. Diego Valeri's every touch caressed seconds into an eternity on the ball.
Yet the Sounders too had outstanding individuals. The difference is that the Timbers have spent all season inventing new ways to combine the flavors of their stars, Seattle never arrived at any coherent mixture of its talents.
Real Salt Lake, a team that has been using the same recipe for success for years now, will be a tougher test on Sunday.
PREAMBLE: Can I go over the top in this minute-by-minute? Of course, considering I am typing this well before the game and you have no way of responding, you have no way of responding to my question, so I'm going to assume the answer is yes. So over the top I will go.
This one is done and dusted. The Timbers have lost just once in the Rose City this year. They arrived back in town draped in the laurels of a 2-1 away win. And the Timbers are facing a crippled Sounders side, a Seattle team that still has no idea what kind of team it's supposed to be. Coach Sigi Schmid tore up his tactical blueprint to accommodate new signing Clint Dempsey, now the most expensive man in the history of MLS, and the Timbers sent him back to the drawing board. That team from up north has NO HOPE. None. Not an iota! Do you hear me?
But what if Schmid's next switch is a bit of alchemy? Well, it doesn't bear thinking about. I know I won't be able to look my fellow Portlanders in the face. I won't be able to look at myself in the mirror. If you need Portland the morning after a loss to Seattle tonight, you'll find it at the bottom of a bottle.
8.00: I am sitting alone in a pitch-black WW office watching this game. My original plan involved quoting liberally from Eduardo Galeano's "Soccer in Sun and Shadow," but because I don't know where the lightswitch is, I will have to abandon that ambition.
LINEUPS: There are no changes for Portland, four for Seattle. NBC is listing Shalrie Joseph as a striker in a 4-3-1-2, which may be correct, but the man has played his entire career as a defensive midfielder, so I'm skeptical.
Portland: Ricketts; Jewsbury, Danso, Kah, Harrington; Chara, W.Johnson; Nagbe, Valeri, Wallace; R.Johnson (Subs: Kocic, Jean-Baptiste, Zizzo, Zemanski, Alhassan, Valencia, Urruti)
Seattle: Gspurning; Yedlin, Hurtado, Traore, Burch; Evans, Joseph, Alonso, Moffat; Dempsey; E.Johnson (Subs: Hahnemann, Ianni, Scott, Rose, Rosales, Estrada, Martins)
8:12: It surprises me that the Sounders haven't dropped Adam Moffat. The former Timbers midfielder looked lost in the first leg. A graphic recently posted on addictive soccer website Whoscored.com listed Moffat as a player with "no significant strengths," and that's certainly how he played in the first leg.
8:16: Here's Diego Valeri's bewitching first goal for the Timbers, in case you couldn't wait for kickoff for some brilliance from the Timbers maestro:
8:17: Speaking of brilliance by Diego Valeri, here's a couplet from the maestro's poem "Sky Towards Evening," translated by Rob Fleming:
No season could be more brilliantthan this one, slowly surrenderingits gleaming heights of Augustto the somber shadows of autumn;
(Note this is not the work of the Timbers midfielder, but rather the unrelated Italian poet of the same name)
1 min: KICKOFF
2 min: The Sounders are playing in a fluorescent teal, the Timbers in their home greens. It looks like Joseph, the MLS great as a defensive midfielder, is indeed playing as a striker or advanced midfielder. Mea culpa on thinking I knew better than NBC Sports.
4min: After some ineffectual Sounders play in the initial exchange, the Timbers unleash a giddy counterattack in which a succession of passes from Diego Chara, then Ryan Johnson, then Diego Valeri's final ball sweep the ball from right to left, and leave Rodney Wallace with an opening to shoot. But the overeager Costa Rican snatches at the chance and misses narrowly.
7min: The Sounders' formation is seemingly quite fluid. In one move, Moffat is the furthest player forward and Eddie Johnson crosses from the right. Seattle does seem to be causing the Timbers problems.
8min: Will Johnson rolls a free kick to Valeri at the top of the box in an excellent position for a shot, but the wizard's trickery gets the better of him as he tries a delicate chip to nobody in particular instead.
9min: Near the left-side corner flag, Ryan Johnson decides it's time for an extravagant drag-back that finds Wallace. Even the Timbers' somewhat awkward striker is getting in on the fancy flicks.
12min: At times the Timbers appear to be having a little too much fun. Darlington Nagbe takes a sly Valeri lay-off and swings a boot at it, leaving Sounders keeper Gspurning with an easy catch. But earlier a speculative blast from Wallace proved awkward for the Seattle man to handle, so the Timbers may be deliberately trying to test him from range.
14min: The referee denies what looks like a legitimate claim for a penalty kick from Diego Chara, after Burch pole-axes him after he's set free by a delightful piece of close-quarters head tennis from Valeri and Wallace. But the replay shows Burch got the ball, not the man.
17min: With numbers forward and men in the box, Valeri, Chara and Jewsbury elect to slow the tempo and play a little keep-away with the left side of the Seattle defense.
19min: Nagbe rockets forward with the ball, a look on his face of absolute determination. His bodyshape for the through ball is beautiful, but he plays it direct to a Sounders player.
21min: The two teams' center backs play pinball with one another for a while, until Diego Valeri sneaks his way into possession of the ball and cushions it to Will Johnson.
24min: Jhon Kennedy Hurtado notices he will be marking Valeri at a throw in and sighs with resignation.
25min: Clint Dempsey (let's be fair here) pulls off a superb touch to beat three Timbers players and Pa Modou Kah hacks him over, leaving him crumpled like a pile of dirty socks on the rubbery floor. The former Norway defender gets the game's first yellow card for his troubles.
28min: Penalty to the Timbers.
The clown Djimi Traore took a beautiful piece of Jack Jewsbury control out of the air with his hand.
29min: GOOOOOOOAL! Will Johnson
The Timbers captain slides the ball to Gspurning's left. Kyle Martino on television alleges there was misdirection involved. I'm not sure.
31min: The relief for the Timbers is palpable, and Ryan Johnson and Darlington Nagbe pop the cork on a bottle of champagne football, exchanging smart little backheels leading to a cross that comes to nothing. The Timbers then swarm about trying to press the ball back from the Sounders.
33min: A sideline shot of Sigi Schmid suggests a man who suspects he will be looking for a job starting tomorrow.
35min: Darlington Nagbe fools Shalrie Joseph and the cameraman with the cutest of little backheels.
37min: You can tell the Sounders are frantic. Even the normally reliable Osvaldo Alonso controls the ball as if he is pretty sure it has secret spikes on it.
39min: Can we talk about what a beautiful, insane airborne clearance that was from Hurtado on the Timbers' left wing?
43min: GOOOOOOOOAL Timbers 2-0 Sounders
Diego Valeri finishes an incisive move by sliding on his back to shoot around Alonso.
45min: So this is pretty much over, huh guys? The Timbers are so relaxed right now. They are Holland 1974 relaxed, and I'm not talking Holland 1974 taunting the Germans in the World Cup final. I'm talking Cruyff and Rensenbrink passing a spliff around a hot-tub.
It's 2-0 to Portland, and Sigi Schmid's eyes are coals burning with hurt and sorrow in a TV interview with Martino and his mustache. He looks like he wishes he was never born right now, folks.
Was that just a commercial in which a husband and wife discuss her farts in a movie theater? I think so.
HALFTIME THOUGHTS: It's pretty basic. The Timbers are everything. The Sounders are nothing. Everybody knew that Djimi Traore, the author of one of the true masterworks in the canon of own goals, had a piece of footballing seppuku in him somewhere in this tie, and there it was. His ridiculous, inexplicable handball made a gift of a goal for Will Johnson.
But even without Traore's generosity, the Sounders looked like they didn't have the first idea about how to score. And the Timbers have been unfussy in their dominance.
Now let's see whether Porter even bothers with risking Valeri's fragile fitness in the second half.
SECOND HALF UNDERWAY
46min: A sleepy looking Seattle waves on a Portland procession toward goal, and Ryan Johnson slots home, but the referee chalks the goal off, saying he already stopped play.
47min; GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOALLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!! Portland 3-0 Seattle
Futty Danso hurdles himself through the air to nod the ball in from a left-wing cross after Will Johnson takes a short free kick.
49min: Can I just say, as someone who has worked, nominally, in the Timber industry, that I just noticed Timber Joey doesn't wear gloves or safety goggles when he cuts? Unsafe! A terrible example for the city's kids.
51min: Nigeria striker Obafemi Martins is on for the Sounders. In his day, Martins was a special player.
53min: Blackjack fiend Diego Chara gets his first yellow card of the night.
54min: Will Johnson buckles his swash and hurdles forward, leading to a Wallace shot. Meanwhile, Valeri just strolls along. He won't be on long.
56min: About 700 Portland Timbers players get the chance to take a clever touch on the ball as they sweep it from Jewsbury's right-wing throw to Michael Harrington for a shot. For a team with three defensive midfielders on the field, the Sounders are not doing a good job of closing down space.
58min: Now Mauro Rosales is on for Moffat. I'm still incredulous that the Sounders captain didn't start, after quite clearly being Seattle's classiest dude in the first leg.
59min: The Timbers have the chance to counterattack after Jewsbury picks Rosales' pocket in the area, but Chara surveys his options, strokes the ball gently, and swaddles it back into the Timbers midfield.
60 min: Valeri is off for the lightningbolt named Alhassan.
62min: The Sounders are flooding the Timbers half in attack, but they keep trying to dribble and getting dispossessed. Will Johnson figures it's time for something a little silly and shoots off a free kick from around Salmon and Broadway (Downtown, get it?).
67min: Chara's got this game by the neck. When the Sounders charge forward in numbers, it's Chara's foot that cuts out their passes. When the Timbers spring forward, it's off the outsole of the Colombia midfielder's boot.
68min: Rosales tries to convince the referee Danso elbowed him in the face, but to no avail. A pretty shameful stunt by the Sounders captain.
73min: GOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAALLL Portland 3-1 Seattle
DeAndre Yedlin smuggles the ball in from a corner, for a meaningless goal presumably calculated to commemorate the 100th birthday of Albert Camus.
74min: GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAALLLLLL!!!! Portland 3-2 Seattle
Eddie Johnson nods home now to give the Sounders some hope. They still need two more, though.
77min: All of a sudden, the Sounders are confident. Nagbe still glides forward, but when the Sounders stroke the ball forward, it's now the visitors who are first to the ball.
78min: Where before Osvaldo Alonso's shakiness in possession was the barometer of Seattle's nervousness, now the Sounders' metronome is putting in a dominating performance, winning everything he challenges for. Twice, his obstinancy on defense has curtailed Timbers thrusts. He simply will not be moved right now.
81min: Nagbe, who has really looked like a superstar tonight, comes off and Ben Zemanski comes on.
82min: Zemanski fouls Alonso as the Sounders look to counterattack, and given the tactical nature of the foul, he's lucky not to get a yellow. From the ensuing free kick, Dempsey spins to execute an ostentatious volley, but Will Johnson blocks. Alonso is limping and looks set to come off for Andy Rose.
84min: It seems pretty clear Rose's presence will slow Seattle's attacks. For his first intervention, he tries to trap the ball and instead passes it halfway to a teammate.
87min: The time for the Timbers' subtle touches appears to be dead, until Alhassan and Maxi Urruti trade a couple of serene passes to give Wallace the opportunity to think about shooting, then give away possession.
89min: A fraught attempt to clear by an airborne Jewsbury gives Dempsey a good sight at goal, but he sidefoots it well wide.