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Cristian Roldan scores early, Sounders beat Timbers 1-0

Stefan Frei knocks a ball over the cross bar in the Sounders' 1-0 win. (AP)

By TIM BOOTH
AP Sports Writer

SEATTLE (AP) – Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer will occasionally drop reminders to his club about last year and the qualities that eventually led to the Sounders winning the MLS Cup title.

Those reminders can be very specific, or in the case of Seattle’s 1-0 victory over rival Portland on Saturday, a simple message that getting a successful result is all that matters.

“Today what I wanted to remind them of wasn’t those particular words but the fact they’ve been able to figure out ways how to win games,” Schmetzer said. “I think that’s the broader message that I want to get to them. Sometimes this is going to happen – it was hot, the turf was sticky, the soccer wasn’t going to be great – but they played like champs.”

Seattle bested its rivals to the south in the first matchup of the season between the last two MLS Cup champions thanks to Cristian Roldan’s goal in the fourth minute off a header. Seattle (4-5-4) made the early goal stand and won its second straight match thanks to a strong defensive performance.

“We might not have played our prettiest soccer the last couple of games but they’ve figured out ways how to win,” Schmetzer said.

The rivalry match landed on a sun splashed afternoon where the quality of the weather exceeded the soccer. There were chances on both ends, but only Roldan was able to find the back of the net even as he was being hugged from behind by Portland defender Zarek Valentin.

Roldan’s first goal of the season was a reactionary flick after Chad Marshall initially directed Nicolas Lodeiro’s corner kick toward the goal. Portland goalkeeper Jake Gleeson was frozen by the redirection from Roldan.

“It wasn’t the nicest game but we managed to score the goal extremely early and the game changes from there,” Roldan said.

While Seattle may be finding its stride, the Timbers (5-5-3) are struggling. After a strong start to the season, the Timbers are winless in their past five matches and missed an opportunity to quite their northern neighbors. Winning the title in 2015 was a point of pride the Timbers held over their Cascadia rivals for one year, but Seattle has gladly pointed out in the months since beating Toronto last December that advantage is no more.

“We played extremely well. It’s undeniable to me we were the better team on the game,” Portland coach Caleb Porter said. “You look at every category in terms of chances in terms of possession, in terms of everything, every metric you want to measure, we were the better team. I thought the guys deserved to get something out of the game and it didn’t happen.”

Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei was rarely tested despite Portland taking 19 shots, but only three of the shots were on goal. Frei posted his 31st shutout since joining Seattle, bettering Kasey Keller’s franchise record. The Sounders beleaguered defense that has struggled for most of the season was outstanding in never letting Portland striker Fanendo Adi or midfielders Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri have clean looks at goal.

Seattle’s best defensive sequence came midway through the first half when a trio of attempts inside the penalty area never reached Frei after being blocked by Gustav Svensson, Marshall and Osvaldo Alonso.

Portland was left begging for a possible handball in the box against Marshall early in the second half but referee Mark Geiger said after the match it didn’t appear Marshall moved his arm toward the shot.