The Portland Timbers are back in MLS playoff action on Thursday night as they play host to Seattle Sounders in the second leg of their Western Conference semi-final at JELD-WEN Field (8pm PT, NBC Sports Network, 750 The Game / La Pantera 940. After securing a 2-1 victory in last Saturday’s first leg at CenturyLink Field, Caleb Porter’s team holds a slight aggregate advantage over their Cascadia rivals, but there is still work to do in order to progress further. With the victors of this tie going through to face either LA Galaxy or Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference Final, there will be no shortage of motivation once the action gets underway. Find out everything you need to know about Seattle going into the all-important second leg match.
What happened in the first leg?
The Timbers showed composure and discipline in a tension-filled game, where Seattle had twice as many shots on goal, completed more passes and enjoyed more possession of the ball. But those stats do not reveal how Porter’s men superbly contained their hosts and frustrated them with excellent defensive play, which was exactly what was needed in such an important first leg game.
When they had the ball, the Timbers used it well. One such example would be when Diego Chara picked up possession in midfield, spotted a gap out wide and played it in front of Jack Jewsbury, who had time and space to cross for Ryan Johnson to head in at the near post. It was perfectly executed, but also showed what the Timbers did so well in that match.
As the game wore on, the Timbers held their nerve and landed a killer punch on 67 minutes when Darlington Nagbe did what he does so well when controlling a pass, turning and firing in before anyone could react. The defensive lines stood firm until the final minute when Osvaldo Alonso pulled one goal back for Seattle and they will try to build on that in the second leg.
What should the Timbers expect?
Well, it wouldn’t be a Cascadia rivalry unless both sets of supporters expected their teams to be fired up. But this won’t be like any derby that has gone before, as there is a place in the Western Conference Final at stake and a possible route through to the MLS Cup Final. For the Timbers, this is new ground being treaded on, but Seattle has been here before and will be desperate to advance.
For them to achieve that, Seattle will need to come out firing at JELD-WEN Field. They may have dominated most of the vital statistics in the first leg, but transferring that into a lead is another quality entirely. The Timbers should expect them to play higher up the pitch, to move the ball quicker, and to let rip with shots from distance whenever in sight of the goal.
Will Seattle change their approach?
The big call for Seattle is whether to start captain Mauro Rosales or not. Clearly, he makes a difference when fully fit, but the 32-year-old has struggled to complete a full 90 minutes. Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid may opt to bring him on as an impact substitute late in the game, where his accuracy from set-pieces will be a weapon that the Timbers must prepare themselves for.
With Lamar Neagle suspended, Seattle will be missing possibly its best player this season. The options available to Schmid in filling that void include Rosales, David Estrada and Obafemi Martins, who is likely to return from injury just in time for the game. And the other possible change to the starting line-up could see DeAndre Yedlin step in at right-back instead of Zach Scott.
Depending on the personnel, Seattle could tinker with their system. In the first leg, they played a midfield diamond to allow Clint Dempsey to attack at will. But they found that the Timbers regularly exposed them out wide, so that will be on Schmid’s mind. The easy way of combating that is by asking the outside backs to step up, but playing a high defensive line brings its own dangers.