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For the Sounders, beating Portland is its own reward. A fierce 38-year-old rivalry, which brought a record 67,385 fans to CenturyLink Field on Sunday, makes it so.

But after a grueling 1-0 home win against the Timbers, Seattle suddenly found itself in a great position on multiple fronts.

First, the Sounders grabbed the lead in the Cascadia Cup, a fan-sponsored competition among Portland, Vancouver and Seattle. Seattle leads with seven points from a 2-1-1 record followed by the Whitecaps (1-1-2, five points) and Timbers (0-1-3, three points).

The Sounders can regain the trophy, currently held by Portland, with an Oct. 9 win against Vancouver at CenturyLink Field, regardless of the other results.

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It might be a competition based solely on pride, but it was clearly important to the players in a victorious locker-room.

“You win the Cascadia Cup for your fans, it’s tremendous,” said Zach Scott.

Added Eddie Johnson: “We know important it is to these fans and how important it is to this organization.”

On a larger scale, the Sounders jumped back up into a playoff position — top-five placement in the Western Conference — with Sunday’s win.

Due to a back-heavy schedule, Seattle has still played fewer games than every other team in MLS, so regular standings based on total points can be deceiving. The Sounders have the second-best points-per-game average in the West and third-best in the league at 1.61.

Only Real Salt Lake (1.67) and East-leading Montreal (1.71) have done better.

And when it comes to total points?

“We still have games in hand on people, so we continue to gain,” said coach Sigi Schmid.

It is no secret much attention this year has gone toward Sounders FC’s star-studded attack with the big-time additions of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. The defense, however, was coming off one of its worst performances of the season after allowing three goals in a road loss last week in Houston.

Schmid elected to change both central defenders, resting Patrick Ianni and the dinged-up Djimi Traore in place of Scott and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado.

The result: a shutout, Seattle’s second in the past eight games.

“Guys buckled down this week,” said midfielder Brad Evans. “We had an extra day to train and really get after, get it sorted out, and I thought the defense was lights-out tonight, challenging every ball and sacrificing.”

• The Sounders extended their franchise-best home unbeaten streak to 10 games Sunday (7-0-3). Seattle has won seven of its past eight at CenturyLink.

• Both coaches seemed upset at the job by referee Jair Marrufo. Portland’s Caleb Porter said the calls were lopsided. Schmid indicated Marrufo could’ve done a better job protecting players by issuing more yellow cards for hard tackles.

Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or On Twitter @joshuamayers.

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