Well, almost never. With 20 minutes gone, Kelly, closely guarded by Adrian Webster and Dave Gillett, brought the ball down the sideline, made one of his adroit moves and drilled a kick toward Withe. Out moved Watling from the goal to intercept. Only Gillett nicked a piece of the ball, just enough to deflect it away from Watling and right to Withe, who popped it in for a 1-0 Portland lead.
Meanwhile, both sides were actively establishing two of the prime rules of English soccer: 1) go right out and show your opponent you are more rugged than he, and 2) when the opponent tries to show you how rugged he is, never take a step backward. Fights began breaking out all over, most of them involving Seattle's John Rowlands, a free spirit who is both the Sounders' target man and their enforcer. After one particularly fierce battle, Rowlands drew a yellow card, or referee's caution. A second card, a red one, and you're out of the game. If the warning intimidated Rowlands, it was not apparent.
"John's a veteran," Best said. "He knows how far he can go before crossing over the line. He's been walking that line most of his life."
Too, Rowlands showed there was more than one way to stop the Timbers. Again Kelly brought the ball down the sideline and fired it to Graham Day. The crowd gasped as Day leaped to head the ball just outside the Seattle goal. Rowlands reached two muscular arms around Day's neck from behind and hauled him to the ground. It was, for sure, a penalty-shot offense. Everyone in Seattle saw it but the referee. "I thought it was a great piece of defensive work myself," Rowlands said later.
With less than 14 minutes to play in the first half, Seattle tied the score on a four-yard header by Tom Baldwin. Early in the second half, England, who had scored only once all season, found himself with the ball and open space just inside his own half of the field, and took off straight for Portland's goal. As Seattle's attackers began to set up, Graham Brown, Portland's superb goalie, tried to figure who the big defender would pass off to. Instead, 30 yards out, England drilled the ball into the net.
The way Portland was being closed off, that should have been it. The clock began winding down. Then, with 31 seconds left, Powell kicked a desperation shot. Baldwin, defending just to the left of the net, lifted a leg to hook the ball outside. Instead, he deflected it into the net. Overtime.
Sighing, Watling picked up his two dolls and went back onto the field. Actually, it is the second pair he's had this season. The first two dolls, which were given to him by Gabriel's daughters, had become bedraggled.
Seattle wrapped the game up in less than three minutes. The Timbers helped by knocking the ball out-of-bounds near their own goal. Seattle sent Paul Crossley, who led the league in assists with 11 and needed only one more to tie the league record, to throw in the ball. Firing between two crossing defenders, Crossley found Rowlands near the goal, and the big centerforward nodded it into the net. Never have 17,925 fans made so much noise.
Seattle has two games remaining with San Antonio and San Jose; Portland just one, with Los Angeles.
Portland doesn't have to win to clinch the championship. The Timbers need only two goals, which will give them two points and put them out of reach of Seattle no matter what the Sounders do. What Seattle needs is two victories and at least three goals in each.