The Seattle Sounders left Providence Park on Sunday with a historic performance against their longtime bitter rivals, putting six goals past the Portland Timbers in a 6-2 thrashing. While much of the talk will rightfully be about the goals the Sounders scored, what shouldn’t be lost are the ones they kept out.
Goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland made his 13th consecutive start and put in a Man of the Match-level performance, high praise in a game where two of Seattle’s forwards recorded braces. But the 27-year-old Ohio native was exceptional and posted seven massive saves, including six in the first half.
“These are the games that you watch on TV growing up, and these are the ones you dream about, the big rivalry games,” said Cleveland. “You always hear Seattle-Portland, the biggest rivalry in MLS. So, to be a part of it, I love playing the away rivalry games because the energy from the crowd energizes me and gives me that extra motivation.”
Cleveland stood on his head multiple times, with perhaps his best save coming in the 21st minute when Felipe Mora tried to chip him, but Cleveland read it perfectly and jumped to deny the finish. His entire evening was a highlight reel, and his performance in net looked not unlike Sounders No. 1 Stefan Frei, who continues to recover from a knee injury and blood clots.
“Stefan Cleveland had a very, very, very good game,” said Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “He was tremendous in goal. He did everything well. He made the saves when he had to. The couple of goals that went in, I’m not so sure he could have done anything about them. He is developing into a fine goalkeeper, and it’s all credit to my very good friend [Club Director of Goalkeeping] Tom Dutra. He works those guys very hard, and all that hard work is what you’re seeing on the field.”
Sunday night’s result was a perfect opportunity for Seattle to get back on track. The Sounders entered the weekend on a bit of a skid in MLS play, but were flying high after a dominant 3-0 win over Liga MX’s Tigres in the Leagues Cup Quarterfinals that carried over into the Portland match.
Seattle will likely need Cleveland to step up again as they finish out a difficult three-match road week that first sees them travel to Frisco, Texas, on Wednesday for a match against FC Dallas (5:30 p.m. PT; Q13 FOX, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM) before heading to Columbus for a 2020 MLS Cup rematch with Crew SC (2:30 p.m. PT; FOX, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM).
“This is a massive win, and you could argue the most important just to get us back on track,” said Cleveland. “This is what this club does. We step up in big moments.”