Clint Dempsey's home debut with the Seattle Sounders turned out to be a happy one. In front of almost 70,000 fans in CenturyLink Field, the hosts beat arch-rival Portland 1-0 -- although it was Dempsey's United States teammate Eddie Johnson who produced the heroics, scoring in the 60th minute to secure all three points.
The opening spell was a back and forth affair, with headed chances at both ends. The hosts twice allowed Jack Jewsbury free headers, and it took a goalline block from DeAndre Yedlin and then a mishit to prevent them from going behind. At the other end of the pitch, Shalrie Joseph somehow managed to direct the ball well wide of Donovan Ricketts' goal after being picked out by Brad Evans' great delivery.
Portland was clearly on top, and in Diego Valeri they had the most dangerous player on the pitch. The Argentinian designated player was the source of everything positive the Timbers did, and was instrumental as the visitors tried to open the Sounders' defense up. Ryan Johnson should have done far better when Valeri's through ball eviscerated Zach Scott, dribbling into Michael Gspurning when it looked easier to score, and Valeri opted to go it alone the next time, hitting the angle of post and bar with a thunderous 25-yard drive.
The hosts were struggling to make an impact, with Dempsey looking enthusiastic, but a little off the pace, and the Timbers were able to hold them off in the first half without too many problems. Something needed to change, and Sigi Schmid appeared to instruct his players to be much more aggressive after the break, and brought Mauro Rosales on for Shalrie Joseph 10 minutes after the interval.
Although pressing the attack meant Seattle looked far better going forward, it also exposed them to Portland's pacey counterattack. Darlington Nagbe was especially effective at turning defence into attack, catching the eye with some superb runs on the right flank.
But the gamble paid off for Seattle. Eddie Johnson proved far more clinical than his namesake at the other end of the pitch, winning a foul with a run past Pa Modou Kah and then turning Rosales' delivery past Ricketts with a glancing header to give the home side a 1-0 lead.
Portland replied immediately, giving Gspurning a real scare after a poor clearance fell straight to Kalif Alhassan, but although the midfielder got his shot on target there wasn't enough power on the shot for it to creep into the bottom corner. The tide, however, had turned, and Seattle, buoyed by the goal, began to take the game to their guests in earnest.
The Timbers were lucky to keep the deficit at one after failing to track Eddie Johnson's far post run on another Rosales cross, requiring a fantastic save from Ricketts to keep the match within their grasp. Not only had the visitors lost their stranglehold on the game, they'd lost their cool as well, and Kah should have been dismissed for deliberately kneeing Johnson in the head after Andrew Jean-Baptiste had downed the striker just outside the box. Referee Jair Marrufo missed the incident, leaving Osvaldo Alonso to conduct some vigilante justice on Nagbe a few minutes later, which also went more or less unpunished.
CenturyLink was on its feet as Dempsey cracked his first real effort at Ricketts' goal with 10 minutes to go, but although the keeper was beaten, so too was the post -- the ball smacked harmlessly off the advertising hoardings, to a collective groan. Rosales then wasted a chance to put the game away when Lamar Neagle picked him out with a cross, but the substitute couldn't get his shape right and the ball trickled wide.
Jack Jewsbury was stretchered off the pitch after falling awkwardly challenging Dempsey for an overhead kick, forcing Caleb Porter to deploy his third and final substitution in Ben Zemanski. Despite the setbacks -- or perhaps because of it -- Portland then poured forward, forcing Yedlin to make a fine intervention with Adolfo Valencia looming and then testing Gspurning through a powerful shot from Rodney Wallace.
Five minutes of injury time came and went, passing far too slowly for Seattle, but alarmingly quickly for the visitors, whose last throw of the dice came through Jean-Baptistes head. Gspurning, however, was up to the challenge, and that would prove the last major action of the match. Clint Dempsey and the Sounders had their victory.
Seattle Sounders (4-4-1-1): Michael Gspurning; Leo Gonzalez, Zach Scott, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, DeAndre Yedlin; Lamar Neagle (Djimi Traore, 90'), Osvaldo Alonso, Shalrie Joseph (Mauro Rosales, 56'), Brad Evans; Clint Dempsey; Eddie Johnson (Servando Carrasco, 90').
Goals: Eddie Johnson (60').
Portland Timbers (4-1-4-1): Donovan Ricketts; Michael Harrington, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Pa Modou Kah, Alvas Powell (Sal Zizzo, 81'); Jack Jewsbury (Ben Zemanski, 85'); Rodney Wallace, Kalif Alhassan, Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe; Ryan Johnson (Adolfo Valencia, 62').