THE 503 — They keep claiming these games take place in Seattle, home of the most accomplished MLS team of the past six years, but that can’t be true.
TV broadcasts will show b-roll of the Space Needle and Puget Sound leading up to each match, but I can’t imagine those images are anywhere near the pitch.
Maybe it’s the Illuminati, or the Freemasons, or some other secret society — but somebody’s tricking the Emerald City into thinking the Sounders are “hosting” the Timbers each season.
These games can’t be happening on their home field. Good teams beat their rivals on their home field. The Sounders never do, though.
But seriously — not since May of 2017 have the Sounders taken on Portland at Lumen Field and walked away triumphant. They’ve won an MLS Cup and a CONCACAF Champions League title in that span — not to mention three Western Conference championships — but they haven’t been able to stick it to their chief adversary in the 206.
The Timbers’ 3-0 victory over Seattle Saturday extended their regular-season unbeaten streak at Lumen Field to seven games, five of which have been wins. Technically, the Sounders beat Portland 3-2 in a playoff game in 2018, but that was the second half of a two-game series in which the Timbers won on aggregate.
The whole ordeal has been infuriating for a franchise that’s been unable knock off its Northwest nemesis in front of its home fans. The drought goes beyond baffling — it’s downright bizarre.
“This is one of the strangest storylines that I’ve been around in a long time where they come up here and have our number, where we go down there and have their number … I don’t have an answer for that, I really don’t,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “Why have we been successful over the years? It’s because I believe we have a good bunch of players, competent people working for the club, guys always fight, their connection to the fans — but all of those good things does not make this even one iota less painful.”
The scene before Saturday’s match stood in stark contrast to the one afterward. Before kickoff, the Sounders unfurled the banner for their 2022 Champions League title, arguably the club’s greatest achievement. This ceremony was not marked by subtlety, though. It was instead underscored by Sounders co-owner Drew Carey telling the fans that “there’s one thing to do, aside from sending Portland and their classless fans back home (and that’s unveil the banner) we won and they didn’t!”
Whether there was any connection between Carey’s words and Portland’s win can never be determined. But there was a series of unfortunate events that undid the Sounders and dropped them to 8-8-2 on the year.
First, Timbers midfielder Sebastian Blanco curved a picturesque cross to forward Jaroslaw Niezgoda, who headed the ball into the net in the 24th minute. Then, Sounders defender Jackson Ragen got a yellow card during stoppage time in the first half, followed by a red card in the opening minute of the second half, which forced Seattle to play with 10 men the rest of the game.
Finally, Portland scored two goals in the match’s final 10 minutes — one by Santiago Moreno and the other by Dairon Asprilla — which sealed the victory and extended the maddening, saddening streak.
Like Schmetzer, Sounders goalie Stefan Frei had no answer as to why his club can’t break through at home vs. Portland, calling it a “mystery.” To be fair, the Sounders have dominated the Timbers down south recently, winning four of their past five at Providence Park.
Frei also was asked about whether the pregame festivities might have “poured gasoline” on the rivalry in a not-so-productive way. And though he wasn’t about to condemn the club’s co-owner, he didn’t condone anything, either.
“We will discuss internally where our emotions were and where they should have been and maybe a little bit different, or could have been different, or what led to the result today,” Frei said. “I don’t even know if (the front office) asked for a meeting in terms of what we were looking for.”
But the fact of the matter is that these guys are pros. They’re built to handle a pregame distraction, if that’s even what it was. The Sounders simply lost. To Portland. At home. Again.
The frustration on Schmetzer’s face after the game was conspicuous. You can tell he is as tired of this skid as the diehards in the stands.
“To fall flat on our faces like that really sucks,” Schmetzer said. “This much I can guarantee you, we’re going to try and fix it so that the next time they come up here, we won’t have this storyline any further.”
Nobody can argue with the Sounders’ success lately. They’ve been a model franchise that has given people such as Carey good reason to gloat.
No doubt the comedian had the fans laughing Saturday. But as has long been the case when the Timbers come to Seattle, they did not laugh last.