The Portland Timbers' late-season Supporters' Shield push got a huge boost with an impassioned 1-0 victory on Sunday evening over Cascadia rival Seattle Sounders at a raucous JELD-WEN Field, all but securing their first-ever spot in the MLS playoffs.
A goal by midfielder Kalif Alhassan right before the halftime whistle was all Portland needed – not to mention two Seattle shots that drew woodwork – to not only leapfrog the skidding Sounders but also Real Salt Lake to the top of the Western Conference standings.
The Timbers are now tied on points with the New York Red Bulls with 53 points from 32 games, although New York hold the tiebreaker with more wins.
Seattle's remarkable slide continues as they are now winless in their last five matches, including three straight losses by a combined score of 10-2, dropping them to third place in the West with 51 points from 32 games.
And true to the rivalry between the two clubs, a late fracas broke out after a hard foul on Timbers forward Darlington Nagbe in the 73rd minute. It resulted in Sounders captain Osvaldo Alonso being shown red for an elbow to the face of his counterpart Will Johnson.
Seattle were unable to take advantage of Clint Dempsey's first start for the club since Aug. 31. The U.S. national team captain has been limited for more than a month with a hamstring injury, which has also kept him out of the USMNT's final two World Cup qualifiers. He also appeared to pick up another knock when he began to favor his right shoulder early in the match, having to go to the touchline several times to receive treatment.
The Sounders also made a change in the net with veteran goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann taking over for normal starter Michael Gspurning, who fell out of favor after allowing nine goals in his previous two matches.
But it was of no use on the game's only goal when a Jack Jewsbury ball into the box deflected to an open Alhassan, who fired a missile from about 20 yards out past a hapless Hahnemann.
Seattle put together the game's first real threat of the night when Lamar Neagle nearly headed home a Mauro Rosales free kick in the 13th minute, requiring a lunging save by Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts.
And on the ensuing corner kick, Dempsey nearly opened his account with the Sounders. But his header clanged off the crossbar.
Despite controlling much of the early action, Portland hung on for a frantic final 20 minutes as the 10-man Sounders desperately pushed for the equalizer. And they nearly got it when a Steve Zakuani shot pinged off the crossbar in the first minute of stoppage time.
The Timbers win also means the Vancouver Whitecaps officially win the Cascadia Cup, the regional derby among the three Pacific Northwest clubs, for the first time since joining MLS.
Portland next play host to Real Salt Lake on Oct. 20 in a top-of-the-table clash at JELD-WEN Field. Seattle next play at FC Dallas on the same day.
Release from Portland Timbers Media Services