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Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Somoza gets his chance with Sounders

By Matt Massey
Special to The Seattle Times

Ben Somoza
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Ben Somoza had just settled into a new apartment. All his belongings were in place after moving from Seattle to Portland, and the second-year pro soccer midfielder liked the idea of security.

Somoza's future appeared cemented with the Portland Timbers after he signed a two-year contract a month before the 2003 A-League season.

But only two weeks into training for 2003, Somoza was released and his bright Timbers future was gone. Suddenly, the 22 games the promising rookie played in 2002 were meaningless.

It was moving day all over again.

The 25-year-old Somoza landed with the Sounders almost two months into the 2003 season, signing as a free agent.

Somoza surely wants to show his former club, the Portland Timbers, that they made a mistake by letting him go. A starter in the last 10 matches, Somoza gets that chance when his Sounders open the A-League Western Conference playoffs against the Timbers tonight at PGE Park.

Seattle Sounder at Portland Timbers

When: Today, 7 p.m.

Where: PGE Park

Records: Sounders 16-11-4 overall, 13-11-4, 43 points, 4th place in the seven-team Western Conference; Portland Timbers, 18-7-3, 57 points, 1st place in Western Conference.

Radio: KKNW (1150 AM); in Spanish, KXPA (1540 AM).

Notes: The two Pacific Northwest rivals meet in the A-League playoffs for the first time. ... Seattle joined the league in 1994, reaching the playoffs 10 of 11 seasons. Portland came into the league in 2001, making the postseason three of four seasons. ... Much bravado came from the Portland camp in yesterday's Portland Tribune, led by Timbers defender Gavin Wilkinson saying, "We'll beat them easily. We expect to make the final, and Seattle is just the first hurdle. I think we're a better team than them. We've proved it all year."

Matt Massey

Tonight's first match of the two-match aggregate goals series kicks off at 7 p.m. The second match is set for Sunday at Qwest Field at 5 p.m.

It's the first time the two Pacific Northwest rivals have met in the A-League playoffs. The Timbers joined the league in 2001, Seattle in 1994.

"Sure, you always want to stick it back in their face, but I'm over getting released," said Somoza, who has two goals and two assists in 13 league matches season, his second with Seattle. "It's a business and teams make business decisions. Maybe I can show them that they didn't make a good one."

Somoza, who played six matches with the Sounders in 2003, overcame another setback before this season. Three days into training camp on April 3, he suffered a second-degree sprain of his right ankle and missed the first two months of the season.

"In the offseason, I knew I'd have to come in and battle to start," Somoza said. "Then, three days into camp, I'm out for two months."

After rehabbing his injured ankle, Somoza finally saw his first action this year July 7 when he was inserted as a substitute in the 73rd minute of a 1-0 win over Edmonton.

He came in as reserve during a 1-0 loss in Vancouver on July 9. With Jason Farrell, captain and starting midfielder, exiting just before halftime with a severe ankle sprain in a 0-0 tie with Vancouver on July 10, Somoza has entrenched himself in the starting lineup. The hard-working 5-foot-11, 175-pounder provides an offensive threat up the right side, either shooting or sending balls to the middle.

"Since Ben and Kevin Sakuda came along off the bench, we've gotten better," said Sounders forward Roger Levesque, who leads the team with 22 points on eight goals and six assists. "Ben brings a lot to the table. He provides athleticism on the right side and he whips balls in."

The club's biggest surprise of 2004 would likely win a team vote as MVP for the second half of the season. Somoza's long throw-in, about 35 yards, is among the league's best.

Somoza provides key roles on many Sounders set plays on offense as he takes all corner kicks and free kicks from the left side.

Getting cut by the Timbers shook Somoza, but it didn't deter him.

"It was a blow to my confidence and pride as a player," he said. "But I knew I was good enough to play. This year, I finally got my break.

"It was all about having patience. I've paid my dues."

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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