SEATTLE — Supporter groups in Seattle and Portland — the Emerald City Supporters and the Timber Army — both preach to their members and to the outside fans of the Sounders and the Timbers to stay until the final whistle.
Saturday’s MLS season-opening matches for both squads proved their point and ushered in the league’s 19th season with a flourish.
Seattle opened the marathon-long 2014 season at CenturyLink Field against the reigning MLS Cup champions, Sporting Kansas City, with its fifth last-second game-winning goal and a 1-0 win. The marker also extended an eight-match winning streak (7-0-1) over Kansas City.
Portland may not have gotten the full three points for the win against the Philadelphia Union at Providence Park on Saturday night, but a last-second Timbers goal gave it a hard-fought 1-1 draw.
Not a bad way to start the season, honestly.
“I just heard all about it. Wow,” Seattle’s Chad Barrett, who made his debut with the team as a substitute in the 78th minute, said. “That’s kind of cruel and unusual (history) against Kansas City, but I really don’t care. I’m glad to be a part of that. We were fighting to the end. We really pushed in the last 10-15 minutes. I thought the guys that did come on really did a great job.”
Barrett was one of five Sounders making their debuts for a new-look Seattle — goalkeeper Stefan Frei, defenders Chad Marshall and Dylan Remick and midfielder Marco Pappa were the other four. All of them made an impact on Saturday.
Barrett, who joined midfielders Clint Dempsey and Sean Okoli (another debutante for Seattle and a Federal Way native) as a substitute and helped provide a late-match punch the team needed.
At “the stroke of death” (a futból commentator’s term for the final seconds at the end of the match), Okoli sent a dangerous cross into the penalty area. Dempsey got a head onto the ball and sent a shot that crashed against the crossbar.
In the scrum for the loose ball, Dempsey kept it close for Barrett to poke it home for the goal at the Brougham End of the stadium.
“When I scored I couldn’t even hear myself screaming,” Barrett said. “I’m pretty sure I was screaming or I was going through puberty, one of the two. I couldn’t hear myself scream. I was telling the guys that haven’t scored here yet that it’s just an unbelievable feeling, especially with all 40,000 people staying until the very end.”
The match was pock marked with missed chances for both teams before Barrett’s game-winning goal. It was also a physical torture chamber that put replacement referee Alan Kelly, a FIFA/UEFA referee from Ireland, to the test. Kelly issued five yellow cards, three to Kansas City.
In reality, Seattle’s depth played a big part in the win. Swiss international Frei grabbed three saves in the match and all three were destined for the back of the net by Kansas City’s threats. The Sounders’ defense was a weak spot last season and looked good in spots on Saturday. Credit to center defender Djimi Traore for organizing Marshall, Remick and DeAndre Yedlin to neutralize most of Kansas City’s runs.
Down south, Portland got its dose of opening-day drama and it came “at the stroke of death” as well.
Trailing 1-0 to another rebuilt squad, the Philadelphia Union, at home, the Timbers put pressure on the visitors, but not enough on target. That is until the third minute of extra time in the second half.
Veteran forward Will Johnson quickly restarted the play on a corner kick that found the Union defense in shambles. Argentina international Gastón Fernandez, in his debut for the Timbers, was wide open on the far post and easily headed in the game-winning marker amid confused Union defenders.
The player who set up the corner kick that Johnson delivered on was Steve Zakuani, the former Seattle Sounders stalwart who signed with Portland out of the MLS Re-Entry Draft in the offseason.
Winning in the final seconds has been a trademark for both Seattle and Portland in the past, especially last season when Portland finished atop the Western Conference standings. To see both teams recapturing that last-minute magic should be pleasing for both Sounders and Timbers fans alike.
It should also make the three Seattle-Portland Cascadia Cup matches a little more interesting. Just don’t try to beat the traffic; you’ll miss a bit of that dramatic magic.
Rob Burns: (360) 537-3926; email@example.com; Twitter: @RobRVR.