Clint Dempsey silences the Providence Park faithful once more
PORTLAND, Ore. -- In retirement, most former athletes long for the cheers, the waves of adulation. Roger Levesque misses the silence.
Few players in the history of the Sounders-Timbers rivalry ever inspired the antipathy as Levesque did during his playing days, in part because he so clearly relished playing the villain.
There was joy to be found in playing at home, as well, using positivity as motivational fuel. Yet there was something profound in the hush of an enemy stadium in the wake of an especially painful goal against.
In that, Levesque recognized a kindred spirit and heir apparent in Clint Dempsey.
"I think he likes to play that adversary role," Levesque said. "There's no question about it. Especially seeing the reaction of the fans ... he seems to feed off that."
Dempsey twisted in his heel yet again on Sunday night, with Seattle down both a goal and a man in the 94th minute of a typically lively rivalry match at Providence Park.
Dempsey's late header -- his ninth in nine career matches against the Timbers -- set the final score at 2-2, turning what looked like certain defeat into what Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer and Portland's Caleb Porter both agreed felt like a Seattle win.
As a spectacle, Sounders-Timbers rarely disappoints. The game itself might not always deliver -- Sunday's was entertaining and intense, if disjointed in the second half -- but the pomp always delivers.
That's especially the case at Providence Park, where the fans are sardined inside a funky old stadium that traps in the sound. CenturyLink has good acoustics, too -- its distinctive roof was in fact designed to amplify the decibels -- but what Providence lacks in modern amenities it more than makes up for in charm.
The change in kickoff time certainly helped the atmosphere. With temperatures forecasted to spike above 100 degrees, the start was pushed from 1 p.m. Pacific to 7.30 p.m. That left plenty of extra time to properly hydrate for the evening's festivities, and the home crowd was duly invigorated by the additional social lubrication.
To suggest that the result is beside the point is ridiculous, of course, but this rivalry is defined by sensory thrill as much as anything else.
Screams reverberate off the old wooden roof above the grandstand and ring in your ears. Timber Joey cranks his prop chainsaw, and when the home team scores, sulfuric green and yellow smoke gets into throats and makes eyes water.
It's easy to see why Porter fits in so well here. He's such a demonstrative coach and obviously feeds off the energy of the crowd up above him. In defiance of heat still around 90 degrees at kickoff, Porter kept his gray suit jacket on. Yelling and gesticulating throughout, the coach threw his head back after bad plays and waved his arms in encouragement after positive ones.
When Seattle's Joevin Jones pounced on Asprilla's turnover and finished off his own rebound to make it 1-0 in the 27th minute, Porter stood uncharacteristically stoic with arms crossed tightly across his chest.
Jones sprinted toward the pocket of delirious Sounders fans tucked into the top corner. But for them, the stadium was temporarily stunned into a lull. That lasted only a few beats before the chants cranked back up, even more boisterously than before.
You can get a surprisingly accurate read on how a soccer match is going without even watching the action itself. It helps to be in a lively stadium like Providence, of course, where collective noise gives fans license to give themselves freely to their passion. The emotional rollercoaster is etched into tens of thousands of anxious faces, in their body language and, above all else, in the sound.
An explosive, raw burst, first aggrieved then triumphant: Penalty kick appealed for and given. Louder: Sounders defender Brad Evans is shown a red card, and Portland forward Fanendo Adi converts the spot kick. Loudest: Asprilla strikes again a few minutes later and on the stroke of halftime as a gut punch to an already reeling rival.
The reaction to Dempsey's insertion as a second-half substitute was a notably visceral and prolonged boo. At first, he denied that the taunts added to the satisfaction of his late header.
"I like scoring against everybody," Dempsey said afterwards. "Any goal is a good goal."
But doesn't such a unified negative reaction at the very least stir one's competitive juices?
"It's just whatever," Dempsey said, pausing before elaborating. "You always want to go and fight, whether you're at home or away.
"Yeah, I mean you've got to figure out ways to use things as motivation. It's motivating to try to silence the crowd, and I was able to do that tonight."
Last December, at Seattle's MLS Cup victory rally and with Portlander boasts about their own, earlier championship fresh in his mind, Dempsey encouraged his Oregonian rivals to silence.
"Now that we won one," Dempsey said. "Portland can't say s---!"
Late on Sunday night, Dempsey reminded the Timbers and their fans of that painful lesson once more.
Matt Pentz is a Seattle-based soccer reporter covering primarily the Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps. Follow him on Twitter @mattpentz.