PORTLAND — The Sounders made a desperate and dramatic push to keep their season alive Thursday, but it came far too late and from too far behind.
A two-goal flurry in the final minutes of Thursday’s series finale against rival Portland provided some fleeting hope and suspense in what had been a lopsided affair, but ultimately the Timbers advanced out of the Western Conference semifinals, 5-3 on aggregate.
Portland held on for a 3-2 victory in the second leg in front of 20,674 at an electric Jeld-Wen Field after having won the first leg, 2-1, at CenturyLink Field on Saturday.
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“It was the toughest loss we could possibly take — against an archrival,” said goalkeeper Michael Gspurning.
When the final whistle sounded, some Sounders dropped to the turf in disappointment, not just for the performance but for a season that ultimately failed to live up to championship expectations.
The Sounders have gone two years without winning a trophy and ended this one on a dreadful 1-6-3 run. After finishing 17-17-8 in all competitions, they’ll take many pressing questions into an offseason that came too soon, particularly ones surrounding the job security of coach Sigi Schmid, who in five years has advanced past the conference semifinals just once.
“My desire is to return,” Schmid said. “I don’t want to walk away. I know there are probably people out there that would like me to walk away. The press, you guys like that. … At the end of the day my job security is really in the hands of (owners Adrian Hanauer and Joe Roth).”
Hanauer declined to speak with reporters after the game.
Portland became the first team since 2008 to win its first playoff series as an MLS franchise. The Timbers advance to the conference finals against the last team to do so, Real Salt Lake, in a two-game affair starting Sunday.
Trailing 5-1 in the series, the Sounders pushed everything forward in the second half Thursday with nothing to lose. The visitors brought designated players Obafemi Martins and Mauro Rosales off the bench, and the fleeting glimpse of full strength resulted in goals.
Seattle rookie DeAndre Yedlin got the first one in the 74th minute, finishing a chance at the far post to get the rally started. Two minutes later, forward Eddie Johnson headed in another goal to cut the series deficit to two and ignite an ever-loyal section of traveling Sounders fans.
The final minutes marked the first time all three Seattle DPs, including Clint Dempsey, had been on the field with Johnson, whose three playoff goals are a franchise best.
Inconsistency was one of many late-season flaws that proved fatal in the end.
Seattle’s goals ended Portland’s long home shutout streak at 523 minutes, but no more would follow. The best chance in the closing moments came in the 89th minute on a Dempsey look that went wide.
“We’ll try to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and carry on,” said midfielder Brad Evans. “We move forward to 2014; that’s where our focus goes now.”
Portland hadn’t beaten Seattle in a playoff series since 1975 in the old North American Soccer League. The Sounders triumphed in meetings in 2004 and 2005 in the A-League and USL First Division, respectively.
The Timbers scored the first three goals Thursday and looked like they would take all the excitement out of an anticipated clash between rivals.
With fans in constant voice, the hosts opened the scoring in the 29th minute when captain Will Johnson calmly converted a penalty kick after Seattle’s Djimi Traore was whistled for a clear handball in the box.
Things snowballed from there. Portland’s first-year wonder Diego Valeri bounced on a chance in the penalty box to make it 2-0 in the 44th minute.
If there was any inspiring speech in the Sounders’ locker room at halftime, it didn’t immediately show. The Timbers scored again in the 47th minute on a header by Futty Danso.
“One or two missed passes against a counterattacking team and they’re going to put it down your throat,” said Evans.
That was a small-picture view. On the wider scale, perhaps the power in a 38-year rivalry has shifted.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org