The first Cascadia Cup match of the MLS season ended in drama as the Portland Timbers snatched a late equaliser at CenturyLink Field. With the Seattle Sounders in control thanks to Eddie Johnson's early goal, it looked as though the hosts were destined for three points until a 90th-minute header from substitute Rodney Wallace gave the Timbers a share of the spoils.
Portland began the match in high spirits. They gave the hosts' midfield no time to settle and within a minute Diego Valeri tested Michael Gspurning with a shot from distance. Darlington Nagbe came somewhat closer when the right side of the Seattle defence collapsed, but the midfielder failed to attack a very inviting cross and the chance vanished.
They'd regret it. When Diego Chara coughed up the ball on the halfway line, Steve Zakuani was utterly merciless in exploiting the gap that opened up in the Timbers' back line. The winger blew past the static defense and, spotting Eddie Johnson's far post run, sent in a perfect delivery that bisected the centre backs and gave the striker an easy tap-in. With 13 minutes gone, the Sounders were 1-0 up.
Portland hit the post in reply when Ryan Johnson met Michael Harrington's cross with a thumping header, but the play was called back for offside and wouldn't have counted even had it gone in. And that foray forward didn't disguise the issues they were having with the Seattle attack -- Andrew Jean-Baptiste received a yellow card for bringing down Eddie Johnson just outside the box and Donovan Ricketts was forced to parry the striker's shot from a similar position shortly thereafter.
Ricketts was also called into action when Sammy Ochoa looked to lumber onto a through ball, and the goalkeeper came off the worse in that collision thanks to the fact that the Seattle man has the tonnage of a small oil tanker, but the visiting support was quickly distracted by a different challenge: Jhon Kennedy Hurtado on Ryan Johnson in the Sounders' box.
Yes, the centre back managed to get a faint touch on the ball before bringing Johnson down. But he also went in from behind with a two-footed scissor tackle, the kind of challenge that breaks legs. Referee Kevin Stott opted to ignore the laws of the game as well as common sense by waving away the visitors' appeals. That call would ensure that the match remained 1-0 at halftime, and did nothing to calm the rather combative mood permeating CenturyLink Field.
Osvaldo Alonso, already treading on thin ice after a first-half booking, inaugurated the second with a chippy foul on Valeri, and the Argentinian came very close to making him pay when his free kick clipped the top of Gspurning's crossbar. The chippiness wasn't restricted to the hosts, and Will Johnson picked up a yellow seconds later for his retaliatory foul on the Sounders captain in the middle of the pitch.
Unsurprisingly, the foul-first mentality didn't do much to make the game watchable. The hosts didn't really mind the lack of quality -- as long as the match consisted of a laughably poor midfield battle they'd keep their lead -- but the Timbers didn't seem particularly interested in doing things like passing to their teammates or moving into space.
Seattle introduced new signing Obafemi Martins late in the second half, and the debutant nearly set up Eddie Johnson within minutes of coming in for Mario Martinez. But it was a Portland substitution that ended up making the different in the match.
It was the simplest of goals -- a diagonal into Gspurning's box from Jean-Baptiste was met by Wallace with a thumping header into the top corner -- and Seattle will be devastated that they gave up the equaliser to such an easily-defendable run. But that's how it goes. The Timbers were relying on Seattle making a mistake, and they did. The Sounders can only blame themselves for not taking the game to the visitors when they held the advantage.