Johnson, Nagbe lift Timbers past Sounders, 2-1

Portland coach Caleb Porter believed Ryan Johnson could take

advantage of matchups and gave him a start. The Timbers’ forward

went out and proved his coach right.

Johnson flicked in a header early in the first half, and

Darlington Nagbe scored midway through the second half on Saturday

night as Portland beat the Seattle Sounders 2-1 in the first leg of

their Western Conference semifinals series.

”We’ve got options up there – good options,” Porter said of

giving Johnson the start. ”We’re going to pick the guy up top who

we think fits the opponent we’re playing. To me, it made a lot of

sense to go with Ryan Johnson.

”We felt his strength in the air, his physicality, his ability

to hold the ball up, his athleticism and pace and power was a good

matchup against (Seattle defenders) Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Jimmy

Traore.”

The third-year Timbers, playing in their first MLS postseason

contest, need just a draw in Wednesday’s second leg at Portland to

advance to the conference finals.

Osvaldo Alonso scored in the 90th minute for the Sounders, who

need to win the second leg by at least two goals to win the

aggregate total and advance.

If the Sounders outscore the Timbers by one goal in the second

match to even the aggregate total, there would be overtime to

decide the series.

Johnson’s goal was his 10th of the year for the Timbers, who

went unbeaten through their last eight games of the regular season

(5-0-3) to secure the West’s No. 1 seed.

Diego Chara started the play with a long pass toward the right

side. Jack Jewsbury was on the receiving end and took it deep into

the corner. He crossed it into the penalty area, and Johnson,

cutting across goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann’s 6-yard box, flicked a

header that went off Hahnemann’s hands and into the far side of the

net early in the 15th minute.

”It was just instinct. The odds of the ball making it to that

far post run are a lot harder so the near post run is a good one,”

Johnson said. ”It was a good ball, and all I had to do was

redirect it. We always believe that if we score the first goal,

we’re going to win the game. It’s true, and that’s how it

happened.”

The Sounders nearly tied it five minutes later as Clint Dempsey

took a free kick 23 yards up from the goal, but Portland goalkeeper

Donovan Ricketts tipped it over the top.

Nagbe made it 2-0 in the 67th minute. Kalif Alhassan, playing on

the right side, sent the ball into the box. Nagbe spun around a

Seattle defender and parked a shot past Hahnemann into the left

side for his 10th of the year.

Alonso got one back for Seattle late after a long throw-in by

Brad Evans was redirected by Shalrie Joseph out to Alsonso, who

drilled it in past Ricketts from 14 yards straight in front for his

first of the season.

”We were able to score a late goal, and that gives us an

opportunity on Thursday,” Alonso said. ”Better to go down there

2-1 instead of 2-0.”