One thing is certain following the Seattle Sounders’ trip south to face their rivals the Portland Timbers: The notion that momentum can carry from game-to-game is hardly one of certainty.
Seattle’s throttling of FC Dallas on Wednesday looked to be a promising turn for the ninth-place Sounders. But any momentum gained from beating the shorthanded MLS leaders dissolved when the Sounders ran into a Diego Valeri-shaped buzzsaw in a 3-1 loss to Portland at Providence Park on Sunday.
“Just another unfortunate result for us,” Sounders captain Brad Evans said. “Teams aren’t scoring these magnificent goals on us. It’s errors on our part. We gotta somehow cut these errors out and get focused.
“It sounds like a broken record.”
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The loss pushes Seattle further out of playoff contention, sitting three spots out and in ninth place in the Western Conference.
Portland’s Valeri returned after missing three games due to an ankle injury, and Seattle struggled against the Timbers.
Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said the team knew the Timbers’ tendencies to counterattack, which two of Portland’s three goals were a byproduct, but execution defensively was the main concern.
“We knew what they were going to do, they’re a bunch of offensive-minded guys,” Frei said. “At times the team almost separates and some guys cheat and stay up. We knew that was going to happen and counter (it) they did. We should have been ready for it.”
Unlike four of the past six regular-season matchups between the two teams, the first 20 minutes went scoreless. Both teams missed on open looks. In the 12th minute, Valeri sent in a cross from the right wing to a wide-open Lucas Melano, who missed on a shot attempt. Just five minutes later, Jordan Morris fielded a cross from the left wing in the middle of the box and blasted an open look wide right.
Portland struck first in the 44th minute, when Melano baited the Sounders’ back line and threaded a pass to Valeri, who scored from just beyond the top of the box. Evans said the goal came at “the worst possible time.”
And the Sounders were not short of chances.
Nelson Valdez sent a shot well over the crossbar in the 54th minute, after a deflected ball landed at his feet in the box. Seattle managed six shots on goal, four missed shot attempts and three were blocked.
“Sometimes we’re looking to beat people and totally outplay the guy before we shoot rather than shooting when we have a little bit of space,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “If you shoot when you have a little bit of space, all of a sudden, guy sticks a knee out, guy sticks a shin out, it deflects, then all kinds of things can happen. … Our midfielders were guilty of that, (Morris) was guilty of that at times.”
Valeri was not done after the first half. Streaking just yards from the goal line five minutes into the second, he sent a volley into the middle curving past the left post and in, pushing Portland’s lead to 2-0-.
Seattle’s defense — along with, presumptively, the entire stadium — believed Valeri was winding up to shoot, rather than cross the ball.
Evans said Valeri’s effort “looked like a cross. Everybody is prepped for a cross,” until it dipped into the far post.
“He sees things other players don’t,” Evans said. “His vision is unlike a lot of players I’ve seen. … He doesn’t have to look to make the pass, it’s just innate. It’s in his DNA.”
The Sounders responded swiftly when Chad Marshall brought the deficit back to one with a header goal, his third of the season, on a free kick in the 59th minute.
Just as Seattle looked to breathe some life into a comeback, Portland struck again.
A streaking Melano connected with Fanendo Adi in the center of the box on a counter, leaving Adi to finish and pushing the Timbers’ lead to 3-1. Portland held possession for 61.4 percent of the remaining 25 minutes.
Clint Dempsey missed his third consecutive match against the Timbers, this time due to a suspension resulting from a straight red card for hand-to-the-face contact against FC Dallas’ Juan Esteban Ortiz Wednesday. At this juncture, the Sounders are familiar with his absence, but Schmid was quick-witted when asked about its effect.
He quipped back: “Is Portland the same team without Valeri?”
Dempsey has appeared in two games with Seattle since May 21 due to national team duties and, most recently, the suspension.
Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso drew a yellow card for a foul on Darlington Nagbe in the 66th minute, which earns him a suspension for next Sunday’s game against Sporting Kansas City for accrued cautions.
The Sounders head south to Los Angeles for a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal match with the Galaxy on Wednesday, then journey to Kansas for a regular-season match with Sporting Kansas City that following Sunday. Seattle is 1-6-2 on the road this season.