Portland’s Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi led the way to a comfortable 3-1 win over their northern rivals.
PORTLAND – If the Seattle Sounders’ 2016 season has a smell, it closely resembles that of the smoke bombs set off in Providence’s Park main grandstand four times Sunday afternoon.
Plumes of green, red and yellow hung in the air for minutes at a time, casting game action in a haze. The scent was sulfuric, like rotten eggs being toasted over a campfire.
If you were in that end of the stadium, it stung your nostrils and watered eyes, a tang catching somewhere in the back of your throat.
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The smoke bombs commemorated three Timbers goals and a victorious final whistle, as Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi led the way to a comfortable 3-1 win over their northern rivals.
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That smell might not yet be Seattle’s playoff hopes turning to ash, not in a league whose postseason structure forgives many sins, but the Sounders (6-11-2) certainly made for easy kindling on Sunday afternoon.
Most of Seattle’s 11 losses this season have been pinned squarely on poor finishing. The Sounders have controlled possession and outshot opponents. Last weekend in a home loss against Los Angeles, they fired off 21 shots. They just haven’t been able to consistently score, ranking last in the Western Conference in goals even after putting five past FC Dallas on Wednesday.
The blame for Sunday’s defeat was directed mostly at the other end of the field – though Seattle did have its customary slew of missed opportunities, most notably Jordan Morris’ early in the first half and Nelson Valdez’s on the other side of the break.
Seattle’s game plan was to play ugly and direct, limiting the impact of Portland’s speed with well-timed fouls and attacking mostly through long balls over the top. It worked reasonably well for 44 mostly even and action-packed minutes.
And then Sounders right back Tyrone Mears lost the ball to Valeri near midfield, the Timbers midfielder sent Lucas Melano flying down the left side and then curled a return pass inside the right post for the opening goal.
“You get a counterattack and we don’t foul,” Seattle captain Brad Evans said. “We don’t slow it down. Bang, bang, it’s a goal at the worst possible time.
“Teams aren’t scoring these magnificent goals on us. They’re errors on our part. We’ve got to somehow cut these errors out and get focused. It sounds like a broken record.”
Portland imposed its will on the game. Seattle knew it needed to slow tempo, to limit the influence of the Timbers’ speedy counterattack. It just didn’t.
“We knew that’s how they were going to play and yet we allowed them to do it,” Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei said.
There was little the Sounders could do about Portland’s second goal, a singular moment of brilliance from Valeri. Five minutes after halftime, trapped near the end line, he chipped the ball toward the back post from a tight angle.
It was unclear both in the moment and afterward whether Valeri was actually shooting or playing in a cross. But once it dinked off the inside of the left post and over the line, it doubled the lead regardless.
Chad Marshall pulled Seattle back within a goal in the 59th minute with a towering header off a corner kick. But the Timbers hit them on the break again five minutes later off a Sounders corner kick. Melano sprinted untouched with the ball from his own box all the way into the other before laying off a pass for Adi to finish.
“Some guys cheat and stay up and look for the counter,” Frei said. “We knew that was going to happen, and counter they did. We should have been ready for it.”
One minute, they’re pushing numbers forward and lining up a potentially game-tying corner.
The next thing you know, you’re trudging back over midfield, batting a hand in front of your face in a vain attempt to get that damn smell out of your nose.