SEATTLE – The spectacle at CenturyLink Field did not disappoint on Saturday night. It was a brisk evening, so Seattle Sounders fans brought even more scarves than usual to hoist the team colors. The brass band struck up all the right notes.
Navy officers unfurled a giant flag for the national anthem and held it at the edges, covering what looked to be a quarter of the field. We sang along as the winds slowly rolled Old Glory.
The local rowdies were vulgar and rowdy and largely stayed put in their own designated section. This was down and well away from the area designated for hated rival Portland Timbers fans to prevent fisticuffs. The fact that all attendees now face mandatory wanding on the way in probably helped keep things civil.
Or what passes for civil in soccer fandom, anyway. The Sounders crowd did break out their famous “Let him die!” chant a few times to taunt injured Timbers players.
CenturyLink Field had both soccer and football markings, to accommodate the Seattle Seahawks game on Sunday, which caused some comic moments early on. When a Sounder drove the soccer ball fast, past the Timbers and deep into their territory, scattered Seattleites would yell “touchdown!” until that joke got old.
As for the performance of the Sounders in the first leg of the MLS Western Conference semifinals, the words of master spy Maxwell Smart seem most appropriate: “Missed it by that much!”
If the game was determined by time in control of the soccer ball or keeping it on the other team’s side of the field, the Sounders would have won handily. Instead they did not manage to score their single goal, by famed Cuban defector Osvaldo Alonso, until the 90th minute.
During the four minutes of added time, the Sounders tried and narrowly failed to get past Portland’s world-class goalkeep Donavan Rickets to pull out a draw.
The Timbers had a much easier time at the net. One could argue the game was over before it started, because of a freak penalty.
The Sounders’ normal keeper Michael Gspurning drew a red card during the previous game. He laid hands on the ball a yard outside the penalty box against the Colorado Rapids. By soccer's draconian rules, that meant he was out for the next game as well.
With Gspurning out, the Sounders relied on backup keeper Marcus Hahnemann to hold back the barbarian hordes. He was only partially successful, allowing Ryan Johnson to score a lazy goal in the first half and Darlington Nagbe to score in the second.
The Sounders head to Portland this Thursday with the odds heavily against them. The Timbers are in first place in the Western Conference because they are defensive, not offensive powerhouses. They managed 15 draws this season, one more than their actual wins.
The two-game semifinal match is decided based on aggregate goals. All the Timbers have to do to advance to the Western Conference championship is a tie in their own stadium or not allowing Seattle to score more than one goal.
Pity the poor Portland security. Sounders fans will be bussing down the I-5 corridor to the much smaller Jeld-Wen Field in force Thursday to root against the Timbers as much as for their own team.
One Sounders fan, photographed with a black hoodie and a half skeleton-face bandana, held up a banner with the Timbers team logo circled in red and crossed out before the match. It read “A Feeling Deeper Than Hate.” It’ll be deeper still after that narrow loss.