A scoreless draw with the Portland Timbers in the 100th meeting between the rivals wouldn’t have been the worst result for Brian Schmetzer’s crew, but they couldn’t hold on long enough, as Sebastian Blanco sealed this 1-0 defeat by getting in behind the defenders in the 86th minute to score the game’s only goal.
PORTLAND – With injuries mounting before and after kickoff, the Sounders spent much of Sunday afternoon just trying to get out of town intact.
A scoreless draw with the Portland Timbers in the 100th meeting between the Cascadia rivals wouldn’t have been the worst result for Brian Schmetzer’s crew, especially when an ugly gash to the head of Kim Kee-hee in the 69th minute deprived them of a key defender. But they couldn’t hold on long enough, as Sebastian Blanco sealed this 1-0 defeat by getting in behind the defenders in the 86th minute to score the game’s only goal.
Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei came out to cut down the angle, but Blanco coolly beat him with a shot to the far post. The defeat leaves the Sounders at 2-5-2 and in Frei’s view, needing to be more creative on attack than they were in this one.
“In the middle of the second half we started defending a little too much for my liking and weren’t able to release the pressure,” Frei said. “That would have been neat to maybe keep the ball for a little bit, or at least keep somebody away from our goal and maybe give the defenders a little rest. We weren’t able to achieve that and eventually cracked, which is unfortunate.”
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The Sounders, playing their third game in eight days replete with cross-country travel, appeared to be bunkering-in for much of a game played in sweltering low-80s heat with on-field temperatures approaching 100-degrees on the artificial turf. They enjoyed some offensive possession for a 15-minute stretch to start the second half, but that vanished when Nouhou came off in the 59th minute with what’s being called an injury, though nobody seemed capable of explaining it postgame.
Ten minutes later, Kim collided midair with Fanendo Adi on a Portland cornerkick and was left with a bloody gash on the side of his head. His absence didn’t help a tentative and at-times confused-looking group of Sounders as Portland pressed in the final minutes.
“We worked our butts off, but again there’s a balance,” Frei said. “We can’t just defend at all times … if you keep bending without releasing a little bit of pressure, at some point you’re going to snap.”
Schmetzer said that other than the head gash, Kim should be fine to play the team’s next game in just under two weeks. But he agreed that losing him right after Nouhou came out likely changed the outlook of the match.
“It hurt,” he said. “You can’t remove two guys off the back line and expect there to be a ton of cohesion.”
The Sounders entered minus the services of forward Will Bruin or midfielder Osvaldo Alonso. Bruin was still feeling the effects of being kicked in his right heel Wednesday in Toronto while Alonso suffered a quad strain in Friday’s training session.
Schmetzer again trotted out the same 5-4-1 formation that had worked so successfully against Toronto FC. And for the second straight match, his opponents, this time the Timbers, had trouble figuring it out early on.
Both teams appeared tentative in a relatively tame first half by rivalry standards. Jordy Delem did his best to set an Alonso-style intimidation tone with an aggressive tackle that sent Argentine striker Diego Valeri to the turf.
But where Alonso tends to play the ball in such cases, Delem whiffed completely and was fortunate to only have gotten a yellow card instead of a red.
Other than that, there wasn’t much happening in the opening 45 minutes. Unlike the Toronto game, the Sounders appeared tentative on the few counterattacking chances they did enjoy.
“We’ve got to find ways to manufacture goals,” Schmetzer said, adding the team has to figure out a way to be “more goal dangerous.”
The biggest Sounders chance came in the 39th minute, when a ball went to Nouhou in space along the left flank near the top of the box. Rather than push the ball forward, Nouhou tried to unload a shot and only partially got it off.
The ball skimmed through the goal crease, but nobody from the Sounders could get to it in time for a redirection attempt.
Portland had a huge chance in the 59th minute when Valeri found himself in alone on Frei after a give-and-go. But Gustav Svensson made a sliding clearance of the ball at the last possible second just as Valeri tried to shoot.
The Sounders tried to hang on. But then Samuel Armenteros found a streaking Blanco up the middle and sent the Sounders to another defeat.
Cristian Roldan took responsibility for some of the defensive breakdown on that critical play. But he agreed his team could have been more aggressive pouncing on opponents’ mistakes.
“In Toronto, I felt we broke on the counter really well,” he said. “In this game, we didn’t seem to catch a rhythm in that sense. We weren’t creative … we can’t excuse ourselves for the quality today. We defended for too long and we didn’t have the energy to be creative.”
It’s a familiar song for the Sounders, who’ll now have nearly two weeks to try yet again to change the tune.