PORTLAND, Ore. – For the 60th time in the history of the two franchises, the Seattle Sounders faced the Portland Timbers.
Wednesday night in front of a sellout crowd of 16,382 at PGE Park in Portland, the two teams set the bar for intensity in the 34-year-old derby as the Sounders FC topped the Timbers of the USL 2-1 to advance to the quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
Roger Levesque scored just 48 seconds into the match and Stephen King added a second in the 27th minute as Kasey Keller finished with three saves while allowing Portland’s only goal in the 43rd minute.
“We let them back into it by giving up the goal right before halftime but they put a lot of pressure on us,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “They play fairly direct and we weren’t winning enough of the head-ball duels toward the end of the first half and even for a period in the second half. But that’s what these games are. They aren’t always going to be the prettiest games. You have to roll up your sleeves and battle through it and that’s what we did in the second half.”
After a quick turnaround from Seattle’s 3-0 win over the Colorado Rapids Sunday, the focus went quickly to the fervor of the Seattle and Portland crowds that have made the Cascadia derby so exciting through the years.
Much of that focus shifted to the Sounders who had faced Portland so many times with the USL club in previous years, including Levesque, who had tallied nine goals against Portland entering the Open Cup meeting.
“I’ve played a lot of games on this pitch so it’s definitely a special night,” said Levesque, who had drawn the brunt of the ire from the Timbers fans throughout the years.
That made his first minute goal all the more sweet when he put the Sounders up 1-0 before security even had time to clear the smoke bombs that some fans had thrown onto the field.
“It all happened so fast,” Levesque said. “Sanna (Nyassi) is so quick down that right sideline. I knew he was going to get to the endline and cross the ball like he’s done so many times. I was just able to sneak in there and knock it to the near post. It all happened so fast, I don’t think Steve (Cronin, Portland goalkeeper) had time to react.”
Seattle continued to control possession for much of the first half, grinding out each opportunity with the ball at their feet.
Then in the 27th minute, they struck. Nate Jaqua carried the ball into the attacking third until he approached resistance from the Portland defense, then dropped the ball off to King for a blast from 19 yards out, beating Cronin to the far post.
Seattle continued to grind, carrying possession for extended periods, though after falling behind 2-0, the Timbers got more urgent on the attack.
David Hayes got up the left side and crossed to the far post for Mandjou Keita for a header into the net to narrow the margin to 2-1 just before halftime in the 43rd minute.
The second half continued at that tenor, with both teams threatening at various stages with no success.
Portland peppered the box with 13 shots on the night, but only managed a serious risk to Keller once in the second half while Pete Vagenas, starting for an injured Osvaldo Alonso, controlled the tempo for the Sounders in the midfield.
“I thought Vagenas did what he needed to do. It’s a hard game to play in midfield because it’s so direct and a lot of it is winning duels and challenges which isn’t necessarily his strength. But I thought he and Stephen King did a good job battling in midfield for us,” Schmid said.
In addition to Alonso, Seattle played without the services of Freddie Ljungberg, who has taken a pounding as one of the league’s most fouled players and was given a well-deserved day off, and Brad Evans and Tyrone Marshall, who were away with the US and Jamaican National Teams, respectively.
The win advances the Sounders to the quarterfinals against the Kansas City Wizards next Tuesday. Kickoff is set for 7 pm at Starfire in Tukwila.