SEATTLE (AP) — Brad Evans and the Seattle Sounders are in an unfamiliar position.
Never before has there been this much uncertainty heading into the final two months of the MLS season about whether the Sounders will make the playoffs.
“We haven’t been in this position before. I haven’t been in this position before,” Evans said. “I told my wife with the way results are going it’s definitely going to be a sprint to the finish.”
That sprint started Sunday when the Sounders got an early goal from Obafemi Martins and watched Evans convert a disputed penalty kick just before halftime for a 2-1 win over the rival Portland Timbers.
Seattle (12-13-2) picked up its second victory of the season over its Cascadia rival, but more importantly got a needed three points in the Western Conference playoff race before 64,358 fans, the fourth-largest crowd for an MLS game in Sounders’ history. Seattle started the day in seventh place and outside of the playoff picture, but pulled into a tie with San Jose for sixth with the victory.
Seattle won for just the third time in its last 10 MLS matches and could have injured forward Clint Dempsey (hamstring) back next week against Toronto.
“We can talk about a lot of things, but the most important thing is we got three points,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said.
Portland (11-9-7) saw its four-match unbeaten streak snapped and the Timbers were more interested in discussing officiating. Specifically, goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey fouling Martins in the penalty area in the 42nd minute, which led to the deciding goal from Evans just before halftime.
Martins made a well-timed run through the back of Portland’s defense and received a long pass from Tyrone Mears. Martins got a foot on the pass just inside the penalty area. Kwarasey came off his line and didn’t get the ball as Martins ran into him. Referee Alan Kelly said after the game he called the penalty for Kwarasey making a careless challenge, but did not issue a red card because it was not an “obvious goal scoring” opportunity.
“Ball comes over his head, and he’s kicking the ball, and then he jumps into me and falls down. From his reaction and everything, I could tell that he didn’t feel like he was fouled,” Kwarasey said. “I think he was surprised he got a penalty on that. I can’t stand anywhere else on that play.”
Martins gave Seattle the early advantage by outworking Portland’s defense in the Timbers’ own penalty area. Nat Borchers lost control of a pass and Alvas Powell had a chance to clear the ball from danger, but Martins forced the turnover and beat Kwarasey with a left-footed shot into the open net.
But Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei was the main reason Portland found the back of the net just once. Three times in the first half Frei made critical saves, including stopping Lucas Melano’s one-on-one breakaway in the 30th minute. Jack Jewsbury twice missed with headers, once wide of the net and once saved by Frei. Diego Valeri’s drive from just inside the penalty area was punched over the crossbar by Frei.
Jewsbury scored in the 58th minute when he was left unmarked on a corner kick, cart-wheeling in celebration after his third goal of the season. But that was all the Timbers would get against Frei, who finished with five saves.
“I thought Seattle was fortunate, but that happens in football,” Portland coach Caleb Porter said. “They feel good, they get the points, we feel bad, we don’t. But I thought we deserved more out of the game.”