Sigi Schmid’s major concern heading into the two-leg Western Conference semifinal series with Portland was that his Sounders would, as they traditionally have, squander their opportunities in the first leg. True to form, Seattle couldn’t convert its myriad chances Saturday night and fell to the Timbers 2-1 at CenturyLink Field. A 90th-minute goal by Osvaldo Alonso provided Seattle a modicum of hope in the second leg.
The Sounders must outscore the Timbers by at least two goals Thursday night in Portland in order to win the aggregate-goal series and advance to the Western Conference finals.
“Our feeling is that we are down 2-1 at halftime,” said Schmid. “We’ve got to go down there and play a good second half.”
The Sounders dominated the match, taking 20 shots to Portland’s 10 while holding possession for 64 percent of the contest. But Portland won the scoreboard with goals by Ryan Johnson and Darlington Nagbe. Seattle would have been staring at a dire circumstance Thursday if Alonso hadn’t scored in the 90th minute.
That was Seattle’s first score in the first leg of an MLS playoff series, covering six series in its five-year playoff history. It ended a furious rush by Seattle in the final 10 minutes in which Clint Dempsey nearly scored twice.
The Sounders face a Portland side that hasn’t lost at home since March 9 to the Montreal Impact.
The Sounders’ first scoring opportunity came in the eighth minute when Adam Moffat burst into the box and floated a half volley to Brad Evans, whose shot was saved by goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts.
Seven minutes later, Johnson scored when he took a cross from Jack Jewsbury and flicked in a header as he ran past Jhon Kennedy Hurtado at the near post for a 1-0 Timbers lead. Seattle had a chance for the equalizer in the 19th minute with a Dempsey free kick, but Ricketts swatted it away.
Dempsey had another free kick in the 29th minute, but it skimmed over the bar. Despite eight corner kicks in the first half and a 56 percent time of possession, the Sounders couldn’t score. They needed GK Marcus Hahnemann’s second save of the half on a Jewsbury shot with seconds remaining to prevent a 2-0 Portland lead.
Four minutes after Mauro Rosales replaced injured Zach Scott, Nagbe tallied his first playoff goal by rocketing an 18-yard strike past Hahnemann in the 67th minute at the far post for a 2-0 lead.
Dempsey missed by inches in the 76th minute and nearly drilled a header in the 87th when his shot skipped off the crossbar. Alonso’s left-footed side volley in the 90th minute, on an assist from late substitute Shalrie Joseph, accounted for the final margin.
Winner of the 8 p.m. Thursday match at Jeld-Wen Field in the Rose City will advance to face the winner of the series between Real Salt Lake and Los Angeles Galaxy.
NOTES: The Sounders will be without Lamar Neagle Thursday after he was booked for his second yellow card of the playoffs in the 48th minute for taking down Diego Valeri . . . Seattle defender DeAndre Yedlin did not play Saturday after failing a late fitness test. Yedlin suffered a sprained ankle Wednesday against Colorado. He is expected to be ready Thursday.