By Kara McDermott
The Sounders failed to shake the clinging monkey of poor semifinal openings as they lost to Portland 2-1 in front of a home crowd in the first game of the aggregate series.
While their possession is noticeably improving, it still looks like Sigi Schmid’s squad is playing harder, not necessarily smarter. A stoppage time goal in the second half gave Seattle a chance in the second leg, but 90 minutes of being largely dominated by Portland gave their opponent something more powerful: confidence
Sounders vs. Portland Player Ratings
Marcus Hahnemann, GK, 5.5: Head keeper Michael Gspurning’s red card against Colorado brought in the formidable Hahnemann to take his place, The two goals that sullied his clean sheet attempt were near point-blank and the result of brilliant plays from Portland. Otherwise he was mostly solid and provided a powerful foot coming from behind the team although there was one spill.
Zach Scott (out ’63), DEF, 5.0: With his lower center of gravity, Scott stood his ground on a lot of plays. A rolled ankle in the first half continued to plague him though, and 15 minutes into the second half he waved to Schmid to take him out. With Yedlin absent and Scott now doubtful, Sounders have a problem at right back unless either recovers.
Jhon Kennedy Hurtado: DEF, 4.5: His failure to run with Johnson at the first goal cost Sounders directly. Both he and Traore stood watching each other as Ryan Johnson ran towards the set piece. The failure stands in contrast to the harmony between their opposite numbers, Danso and Kah. Hurtado’s saving grace may be that with Traore made to look so comical on the second goal, Hurtado will not be the first to be axed for the second leg,
Djimi Traore, DEF, 4.0: The center defense had major lapses in concentration and position. Both of Portland’s goals were like a hot knife through butter, indicating dropped marks and communication lapses – both key responsibilities of these positions. A man of Traore’s experience should not have gone to ground so quickly when Alhassan played the ball into Nagbe’s feet at the second goal. If there was ever any doubt whether Traore will be back next season, Darlington Nagbe just erased it.
Those fans who were yelled down when they cried “We need a centre half more than Clint Dempsey”, should feel justified. Unless Pat Ianni can guarantee his health, this is the most pressing problem for the close season.
Leo Gonzalez (out ’84), DEF, 5.0: An unfortunate reality is that Portland’s goals both came from unpressured set-ups on the left side — Gonzalez’ and Moffat’s territory. With Moffat being pulled laterally (see below), Portland was able to take a lot of space before having the Sounders step to the ball. Jack Jewsbury found acres of unchallenged space on the first goal. Gonzalez has probably played his best games since 2009 this season but sadly, he is just not as good as other clubs’ left backs.
Brad Evans, MID, 6.5: Brad Evans started at right midfield, and it seemed to be the team strategy to push the ball forward up that side or through the middle. He got a few looks and chances on goal before being moved back to Scott’s defense position about 15 minutes into the second half. He wasn’t as much of a spark for the team as he was earlier in the week against Colorado, but his long throw-in near the right corner flag was the second assist on the Sounder’s only goal. In his defence, having Zach Scott rather than DeAndre Yedlin behind him changes his dynamic. Once again, he emerges with credit.
Osvaldo Alonso, MID, 7.5: Alonso, as expected, was one of the most consistent players on the field, even as Portland took on a fresher step in the second half and pushed even harder against Seattle’s defense. He scored the stoppage time goal that kept many a hope alive in the Sounders’ family on a brilliant volley, but even more impressively, he came away from the tense game without any cards. His discipline used to make him less effective. Against Colorado and tonight, he married his normal dominating game with emotional control. Seattle’s best player on the night.
Clint Dempsey, MID, 6.5: Without Marc Burch and Mauro Rosales in the starting lineup, Dempsey was call for almost all of the Sounders’ set pieces, and the first half alone saw a lot: eight corners and eight free kicks. They were awful and he is lucky the ‘What a waste of money’ chant hasn’t crossed the Atlantic yet.
He was relieved of his duties when Rosales came in later, and focused more on chances on goal. However, he was unsuccessful on the several opportunities he had, including a late header off a corner that hit the ground and bounced into the crossbar. For Dempsey, a period of rest and rehab cannot come quick enough.
Adam Moffat (out ’77), MID, 6.0: After the game against Colorado on Wednesday, Moffat told reporters that he was tasked on the outside to roam more laterally as opposed to merely vertically along the line. While this pulled him into a lot of heavy action, it left his line very open and Leo Gonzalez exposed. This seems to be a lesser concern to Schmid, as Moffat excels significantly more at distributing from the center rather than providing service from the outside. If he is to continue to have dual roles, Sounders will need a better left back. That said, Moffat’s engine continues to tick.
Eddie Johnson, FWD, 3.0: Two words sum up Johnson’s performance: dead weight. It was hard to recollect any meaningful impact. Partly he is a lesser threat when Rosales is absent. That harks back to a generally poorer supply from Dempsey and others than Rosales provides. Perhaps also, sitting on a yellow card dampened his enthusiasm for the challenge. The next time he asks for a pay rise he should have to sit though these 90 minutes first.
Lamar Neagle, FWD, 5.0: Coach Sigi Schmid’s choice to continue with center heavy midfielders created more space on the outside, and Neagle worked at getting wide to provide an outlet. However, he blew hot and cold in the match, having stretches of high energy and periods where he was almost missing entirely from the play. Just after the start of the second half, he earned a yellow card, which coupled with his earlier card against Colorado, will make him ineligible to play in the next leg on Thursday. The chronic lack of depth in this squad will make that more of a problem than anything Neagle did tonight. Once again though, his effort cannot be faulted.
Mauro Rosales (in for Scott ’63), MID, 6.0: Rosales provided a lot of welcome relief to the beleaguered Sounders. He took over Dempsey’s set piece duties and the subsequent quality was noticeably improved. However, Rosales seems to be more effective starting a game: setting an early tone, providing creativity and peppering the box with crosses. Brought on later, he doesn’t always have the ability to turn the game around, except in set pieces. Only his declining fitness can explain why he doesn’t play the Full 90. He probably does not have another season as a DP.
Shalrie Joseph (in for Moffat ’77), MID, 6.0: In a head-scratcher sub, Schmid brought on Joseph for workhorse Moffat when the Sounders were down by two in the second half. Joseph hasn’t played since the Sounders last matched up against Portland in the regular season on August 25. While his rust was obvious, it didn’t stop him from assisting on the Sounders’ lone goal of the night when he flicked on Evans’ throw to Alonso. After the game, Moffat admitted to having nothing left in the tank which forced the substitution on the coach. That said, Joseph’s assist and Neagle’s absence, might well push him far enough up the line to start in Portland.
March Burch (in for Gonzales ’84), DEF, n/a: Schmidt likely brought Burch in for a stretch before the second leg against Portland. He will likely be called up into earlier action in that match since Scott went out with an injury.