Three from Dempsey, two from Chara leave Seattle tied in Portland, 4-4

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Eight goals and a hat trick from the player who has quickly become a focal point of the Portland-Seattle battle made the season’s first meeting between Cascadia rivals an all-time classic, even if the Timbers and their fans left Providence Parks with misgiving about the team’s late collapse. Giving up goals in the 85th and 87th minutes to complete a Clint Dempsey hat trick, the Timbers saw a two-goal lead descend into a 4-4 draw, a result that leaves Caleb Porter’s team winless on the season.

Portland now sits 0-2-3 after five matches, having yet to win or lose at home. Seattle, on the other hand, overcame last week’s late heartbreak against Columbus to inflict some disappointment of their own, with Dempsey’s late conversion from the spot leaving the team 2-2-1 on the season.

Seattle’s Kenny Cooper opened the scoring in the third minute as the Sounders covered their first corner kick, but goals in the ninth and 14th minutes from Diegos Chara and Valeri gave Portland its first lead before the quarter-hour mark. Clint Dempsey’s second goal of the season in the 24th minute allowed Seattle to go into halftime tied, 2-2, but early second half goals from Chara and Maxi Urruti handed the hosts a 4-2 lead.

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At least temporarily, Clint Dempsey is the joint-MLS leader in goals, his hat trick in Portland, Ore., vaulting him to four on the season. (Photo: Getty Images.)

In the 85th minute, a cross from Lamar Neagle saw Obafemi Martins find Clint Dempsey at the edge of the six-yard box, with the U.S. captain’s third goal of the season bringing his team within one. Two minutes later, after DeAndre Yedlin was brought down in the penalty area by Ben Zemanski, Dempsey’s third goal of the afternoon salvaged a point for the Sounders.

Dempsey, who arrived in Seattle in the middle of last season, has become a lightning rod for fans of a team that sat atop the league’s Allocation Order at the time of his arrival. Now the target of Timber fan derision, Dempsey’s three-goal statement marks his first salvo to the opposition support, with Portland’s crowd left stunned after he engineered Seattle’s response.

Seattle was on the board with the first good chance of the match in the minute when a corner from Gonzalo Pineda found Jalil Anibaba unmarked just beyond the far post, 10 yards from the byline. The defenders volley was headed into the right side of goal before Kenny Cooper touched it, but with the former Timber creeping in a the far post, Anibaba’s teammate tapped home the game’s first goal.

Just before the nine-minute-mark, however, an unlikely source brought the Timbers even. On a ball played toward the middle just inside Portland’s attacking third, Chara won possession from Pineda and drove toward goal. Pulling up just outside the penalty area, the Colombian beat Stefan Frei into the left of goal, a soft right hand from the Sounders keep unable to stop the midfielder’s first goal in three years.

Two minutes later, Cooper nearly had his second of the match, drawing a leaping save from former Sounder Andrew Weber that kept the ball from finding his upper-right hand corner. It was a stop that proved especially valuable two minutes later as Portland look its first lead of the season.

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Diego Valeri’s first goal of the season made it 2-1 on Saturday in Portland, Ore. (Photo credit: Getty Images.)

Off a Chara-forced turnover in the center circle, the Timbers quickly found Darlington Nagbe on the left, who played wide for the oncoming Michael Harrington.  The Portland left back’s pass to Diego Valeri found the Argentine with Anibaba at his back, something that proved irrelevant as the Timbers’ creator turned on a left-footed shot that found the top of Frei’s goal, making it 2-1.

Ten minutes later, the Sounders were back even. A Norberto Paparatto giveaway in his defensive third allowed Cooper to play the ball back in to Osvaldo Alonso, who headed toward the middle of the field for Obafemi Martins. Caught out after the bad giveaway, Portland had nobody to mark Clint Dempsey, who Martins found in the middle of the area for Seattle’s second goal.

Chances for Cooper (who forced another diving stop from Weber), Max Urruti, and Dempsey saw a first half primed for goals end with four, something the changed early in the second. With two goals within 12 minutes of kickoff, Portland had the day’s first two-goal lead.

In the 55th minute, it was Chara again, this time with help from Alvas Powell and Kalif Alhassan. The end product, however, was much the same as his first half goal. Allowed to carry the ball toward the edge of Seattle’s penalty area, Chara again beat Frei into the left of how, his court Major League Soccer goal giving his team their second lead of the day.

Two minute later, Seattle handed Portland a four. After an ill-advised back pass from Cooper, Anibaba had the ball taken off him by Urruti on the edge of his defensive third. The Argentine forward went in alone on goal, with Chad Marshall trying in vain to catch up as the 23-year-old curled his shot inside the right post, giving the Timbers a two-goal lead.

In the 85th minute, after the Timbers seemed destined to claim victory, Dempsey recovered one of Portland’s second half goals, finishing from close range after a buildup down the right found him in front of Weber’s goal.

Two minutes later, Seattle’s unlikely comeback was completed. After a run behind the defense saw Yedlin pulled down by Zemanski in the right of the penalty area, Dempsey finished in the middle of Weber’s goal, his hat trick leaving the Sounders on even footing after the eight-goal shootout.

The result also snaps Seattle’s three-match losing streak to their arch rivals, who had eliminated them from last year’s playoffs. Meanwhile, Portland’s winless run to start the year is at five, with the team’s defense continuing to prove a liability.

MLS Snapshot: Sounders in firm control after Leg 1

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The game in 100 words (or less): The Seattle Sounders took full control of the Western Conference finals with a resounding 2-0 win over ten-man Houston. The Sounders already had hit first in the 11th minute through Gustav Svensson but the red card to Jalil Anibaba changed the game. Houston had some chances later but fatigue meant the focus and control was off. Former Dynamo striker Will Bruin’s goal may have put the tie to bed.

Three moments that mattered

11′ — Gustav Svensson Goal — The Sounders wanted to set the tone early and they picked up an early goal off a corner kick, as Svensson redirected a header past Dynamo goalkeeper Joe Willis. The goal changed the complexion of the game to that point, until our next big moment.

28′ — Jalil Anibaba red card — Joevin Jones was a menace to deal with tonight and after getting past Anibaba, the latter pulled Jones down and as it appeared to be denial of a goal-scoring opportunity, Anibaba was given his marching orders. Suddenly, Houston, down a goal and down a man, had a lot more to do to stay in the tie. Nicolas Lodeiro missed the subsequent penalty kick but Will Bruin picked Lodeiro up later.

42′ — Will Bruin goal — The former Dynamo man scored a massive goal against his former club on a great cross from Jones on the left wing. While the tie isn’t over, the Sounders are in firm control and look set to repeat as Western Conference playoffs champions.

Man of the Match: Joevin Jones

Three things: Sounders cruise after (and before) early red

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The Seattle Sounders all but booked a return appearance in the 2017 MLS Cup final on Tuesday, doing so by beating the Houston Dynamo 2-0 in the first (away) leg of the Western Conference finals on Tuesday. The game wasn’t as close at the final score might appear to indicate.

[ RECAP: Sounders take 2-0 lead over Dynamo ]

We learned the following three things over the course of the 90 minutes…


The red card hurt Houston

No way, you’re kidding, right? Clearly a 28th-minute red card (shown to Jalil Anibaba for the denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity) is going to have a massive impact on the outcome of a game. But, it really crippled Houston, given the way they play — having a numerical advantage in the center of midfield is so important to Wilmer Cabrera’s side, in the name of frantically winning the ball back after conceding half or even two-thirds of the field.

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When you have to haul off one of three central midfielders, in hopes of still being about to force-create chances on the rare occasion you recover the ball and move it forward, three things are bound to happen: 1) legs are going to get very heavy, very quickly; 2) the clock appears to be counting up in double-speed; 3) you begin to concede two-thirds and three-quarters of the field instead — every move Seattle worked during the second half came after a waltz in the final third before finally meeting resistance.

At right, you can see every Sounders pass originating in Houston’s half of the field — remember, Seattle are the away team here. Playoff games rarely, if ever, come much easier than that.


Addition by subtraction… again?

This one isn’t so much a lesson from Tuesday’s game, as much as it’s a trend played out over the course of an entire season: much like they wound up being in 2016 following Clint Dempsey‘s heart condition robbing him of the final four months of the season, the Sounders are once again, dare I say it, better without another indomitable figure: Osvaldo Alonso.

Here’s the numbers to back it up: without Alsono in the starting lineup this year, Seattle went 6W-2D-2L. In those 10 regular-season games, they scored 20 goals (2.0 per game, versus 1.3 with him in the lineup) and conceded 12 (1.1 per game, same when he played).

The central midfield pairing of Cristian Roldan (7) and Gustav Svensson (4) has proven a formidable foe for anyone and everyone during the second half of the season. On Tuesday — granted, against 10 men for more than an hour — they could do no wrong. (Passes attempted on the right; defensive actions on the left — green triangles are tackles won, orange are recoveries, blue are interceptions, purple are clearances, red are tackles lost.)

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Alonso has been an unbelievable servant for nine MLS seasons, he’s an MLS Cup champions, a four-time U.S. Open Cup winner, a Supporters’ Shield winner and one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS history. He’s also 32 years old with a growing history of lower-body injuries that seem to never fully heal, and he’s now clearly third in the pecking order behind Roldan and Svensson. It’s clearly an oversimplification to say that soccer is a young, mobile man’s game these days, but it’s certainly true of MLS, and the results are in near total agreement.


May I have some hope, please?

Here’s a not-so-fun fact if you’re a Dynamo fan: your team won one — singular — game on the road in 17 tries this season. Not a dark enough outlook? OK, have this: that lone away win came against D.C. United, who finished 21st out of 22 teams if you put MLS into a single table.

Maybe Seattle weren’t so good at home this year… I’m really just searching for anything at this point, you’re thinking. OK, it’s possible, I suppose. They lost once at home all season, to Toronto FC, the best regular-season team in MLS history, by the final score of 1-0, in the month of May.

We’ll see you in Toronto or Columbus for MLS Cup, Seattle Sounders.

MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC hold Crew on the road

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The game in 100 words (or less): Without two of its stars, Toronto FC set out to play compact and hold on for a draw on the road, and that’s exactly what they did. Michael Bradley recorded 17 recoveries and a trio of interceptions as TFC broke up play and covered the passing lanes, frustrating the Columbus Crew all night. The best chance fell to Harrison Afful late, but TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono made a crucial save to keep it at 0-0.

Three moments that mattered

0′ — The starting lineup — In a game with chances few and far between, the tactical set-up by Greg Vanney – in which his side without Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore came out in a 4-1-4-1 formation – proved to be the difference in the game, frustrating the Crew all night.

52′ — Pedro Santos penalty kick no-call — Justin Meram plays a neat pass through the TFC backline that Santos runs on to, and he appears to be taken down in the box by Bono. Referee Robert Sbiga doesn’t blow the whistle and lets play continue, where Ola Kamara takes a shot that’s deflected away. Santos appeals for video review, and receives a yellow card for his efforts.

85′ — Big Save Bono — Gregg Berhalter’s 77th minute substitution to bring on Kekutah Manneh helped to push Afful higher up the field, which led to this late-game chance. Bono, who hadn’t had a whole lot to do, came up with a massive stop to keep the tie level.

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Man of the Match: Alex Bono, Toronto FC

Three things: Being happy with 0-0, and sabotage by Precourt

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On what felt sure to be a seminal night in franchise history, Columbus Crew SC were held by Toronto FC to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday. Leg 2 will be played next Wednesday, Nov. 29.

[ RECAP: TFC hold Crew SC to scoreless draw in leg 1 of East finals ]

We learned (roughly) three things over the course of the 90 minutes…


Who’s happiest with 0-0?

There’s a case to be made that both sides will be quite happy with Tuesday’s result — Crew SC for the fact they conceded no away goals, and TFC facing no deficit whatsoever before their home leg — but it’s quite clear that TFC should be the happier of the two, given 1) they were the best regular-season team in MLS history, this season; and, more importantly, 2) Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore were suspended for leg 1 (they’ll both be back for leg 2) and Crew SC failed to capitalize anywhere meaningful.

TFC lost once at BMO Field all season, while Columbus managed just four victories away from home. Granted, any draw where both sides score would see Crew SC through to MLS Cup, which they would host no matter the opponent (54 points in the regular season; Seattle Sounders and Houston Dynamo finished on 54 and 50, respectively).


TFC’s tactical adjustment pays off

For all of the regular season, TFC head coach Greg Vanney deployed a back-three, with great success — 69 points, an all-time regular-season record. Nov. 21, three games from lifting (or losing) MLS Cup, is hardly the ideal time to deviate from the only path you’ve known.

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Alas, the absences of Giovinco and Altidore, TFC’s permanent strike partnership in the 3-5-2, changed everything. Without Altidore’s hold-up play bringing the best player to ever grace the league into attacking moves, the 3-5-2 would have quickly devolved into a 5-3-2, followed in short order by a 5-4-1. Columbus need no invitation to hold north of 60 percent of possession in a given game, which is exactly what would have happened. Not just meaningless possession, either, but camping-inside-TFC’s-defensive-third possession; 50-crosses-into-the-box possession; get-the-center-backs-forward-too possession.

Vanney was proactive with his starting lineup, putting another body in midfield by sacrificing a striker for another man in the middle, and it paid off. At right, you’ll see Crew SC’s attempted passes into/from TFC’s defensive third. Woof.


Anthony Precourt sinks to a new low

How low is Anthony Precourt willing to go in order to sabotage Crew SC, the club he owns and efforts to move to Austin, Tex., without so much as a phony attempt at a non-relocation resolution, and alienate the fans that have supported the franchise since MLS’s debut season in 1996? Tuesday night saw Precourt and Co. up the ante as they intentionally restricted entry (two gates for the entire stadium, causing thousands to miss the game’s opening minutes) into MAPFRE Stadium with the presumed intent of a half-empty venue when the television broadcast kicked off and panned left to right.

You pay good money for a ticket so you can see your team play, which ultimately results in filling the pockets of the villain whose no. 1 goal it is to steal your team, and this is how you’re treated on gameday.

This is shameful stuff from all parties involved — Crew SC, under the leadership and direction of Precourt, and MLS, who have allowed this entire saga to be played out in a public forum and enabling Precourt every step of the way.