SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC v PORTLAND TIMBERS
CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.
Nov. 2, 2013 (MLS Cup Playoffs, Eastern Conference Semifinals, First Leg)
(7 p.m. PT; NBC Sports Network, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940)
All-too familiar rivals will meet for the first time in the MLS Cup playoffs when the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers face off in a Western Conference Semifinals matchup, starting with the first leg Saturday at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Before it is all said and done, the Cascadia rivals will have played five times this year – the teams have already each one once and tied in their three previous meetings. The Timbers come into the match as one of the league’s hottest teams, having gone unbeaten in their last eight games and finishing out the season with a 5-0 rout of Chivas USA. Seattle, who fell on hard times of late, got back on the right track in their last two games with a 1-1 draw against the LA Galaxy in the season finale, which allowed them to host a Knockout Round game on Wednesday in which they dispatched the Colorado Rapids with a 2-0 victory.
The Timbers come into their first MLS Cup Playoffs match off a game where they scored the most goals ever in their three seasons in MLS in a 5-0 season-ending win vs. Chivas USA.
“We want to be in form, flying, confident and going into the playoffs ready to make a run at it and win it and not just being happy being in it,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said. “And I think with this team we think we can make a realistic run at it. ... You always want to be playing your best football at the right time, and we’re fortunate it’s working out that way.”
The Timbers also finished the campaign undefeated in their eight matches, tied for the fourth-longest streak in MLS this season. They also completed the regular season with shutouts in their final three matches, riding a 281-minute shutout streak.
"It has been a great regular season. It’s a big reason why we do what we do. We want to have moments like we have right now, but I told them that there is a much better moment ahead if they can get through five games and beat three teams,” Porter said.
Making a second consecutive start after being out of the first team for the previous two matches, Diego Valeri scored two goals and added an assist – in just 45 minutes. He finished as the MLS assist leader with 13 for the season.
“Obviously, it gives us a little boost of confidence,” midfielder Will Johnson said. “Valeri gets a few goals and Rodney Wallace gets another nice goal, and these are guys that we need scoring goals in the playoffs. I think it just gives the team a good boost and a good shutout for our defenders as well, so everybody is going in nice and confident into the biggest games of the year.”
Rodney Wallace scored his first goal since Sept. 7 in returning to the starting lineup after being out for two matches, while Ryan Johnson netted his first goal since Aug. 17 after not featuring for the previous three matches.
- “When we put our group together and we get everybody on the same page with regards to playing our style and pressing and attacking, I think you saw what weíre capable of,” Porter said. “... I wanted to open the floodgates in this game, and sometimes it takes just one game to really get your attack unlocked. It’s perfect to get some goals before the playoffs because now that will hopefully jump start our attack.”
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC
With the victory in the Knockout Round opener, Sounders FC won a game for the first time since Sept. 13, putting an end to a seven-game winless streak to end the regular season.
"It's not just a win; it's the way we played as well," said Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid. "I thought we played well. It's not where we were hanging on and scrapping to get by, I thought we played well and had some good offensive sequences going forward ... and we're starting to understand how we want to play in this system."
Brad Evans scored his first postseason goal since 2008, since his second MLS Cup Playoffs match, with the Columbus Crew.
"I thought we played well in [the midfield] – especially when it was [Brad] Evans, Ozzie [Alonso] and [Adam] Moffat – I thought their cohesion was pretty good and allowed Clint the freedom to go," Schmid said.
After coming through with his first goal in his return to MLS in the regular season finale, Clint Dempsey recorded his first assist since coming to Sounders FC, setting up the second goal.
"I think he has taken to the role playing as the attacking midfielder ... as we develop more understanding of where we're going to be then that just allows him to get more balls in dangerous positions," Schmid said.
Eddie Johnson has now scored goals in back-to-back playoff games, netting in last year's Western Conference Championship second leg vs. LA. "For me it is about rhythm. I have been off for 2-1/2 weeks and it has been frustrating. Last game I think I got out and was trying to do too much, but this game I just wanted to relax," Johnson said.
With Michael Gspurning sent off for handling the ball outside the penalty area late in the match, Marcus Hahnemann came on to finish out the Knockout Round win. "I told Marcus after the game he's definitely starting the next game. I wanted to make sure there's no confusion ... Marcus is a quality goalkeeper, it's not going to be an issue," said Schmid.
- There was one injury concern as fullback DeAndre Yedlin was forced off a halftime with a sprained ankle. "In the second half, when he was out, the decision was to move [Brad] Evans back there because we felt Zach Scott may have been an alternative, but Evans' feet would be better. That worked out well for us."
REFEREE: Baldomero Toledo. AR1 (bench): Craig Lowry; AR2 (opposite): Mike Rottersman; 4th: Drew Fischer
SUSPENDED: SEA: Michael Gspurning (through Nov. 3)
WARNINGS: SEA: Lamar Neagle, Eddie Johnson (suspended next yellow card)
POR 2 wins, 7 GF … SEA 3 wins, 11 GF … Ties 3
2013 HEAD-TO-HEAD: POR 1 win, 2 GF; SEA 1 win, 2 GF; 1 tie
AT CENTURYLINK FIELD:
3/16: SEA 1, POR 1 (Johnson 13 – Wallace 92+)
8/25: SEA 1, POR 0 (Johnson 60)
MLS CUP PLAYOFFS: First meeting.