Different Pressures Face Sounders, Timbers

Season on the line for both clubs in 2nd leg of conference semifinal
by Ray Marcham   |   Thursday, November 07, 2013

Green Logs – column on Portland Timbers (PTFC) & the Portland, Oregon area soccer scene.

Thursday night could be a historic night for the Portland Timbers. It could also be a massive disappointment.

The 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field means that the Timbers were the only side to win on the road during the first leg of the MLS conference semifinals. It also means that the pressure is on to keep that lead against a Sounders side that will be desperate to score early and steal the momentum in the playoff series.

Of course, the last time Seattle visited JELD-WEN Field, Portland came away with a chippy 1-0 win that included a red card to Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso. The ref in that match, Hilario Grajeda, will also be the man in the middle for Thursday night’s match.

Much of the talk is that the pressure is on Seattle, that this match could lead to a host of changes if they lose. But for the Timbers, the pressure is as strong, even if that pressure is quite a bit different than it is for Seattle.

Second legs of playoff series are always tricky, especially if a club is hosting that second match. The expectations are usually higher on the home side, as they usually “earned” the right to host that second match because they finished higher. In this round, Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake face the pressure of trying to overcome 1-goal deficits, so they have to win by at least two or in a shootout to advance. The New York Red Bulls are level with Houston after their first leg, but they still have to win to advance to the conference finals.

That’s where the pressure on Portland is a little different than the rest of this week’s second leg home sides. They don’t “need” a win, but they can’t afford to lose. The Sounders just need a goal to create the possibility of extra time, and there’s no way the Timbers want to see a shootout, especially with a possible conference final on the road on Sunday.

It’s also been five years since a club won its first MLS playoff series. Real Salt Lake pulled that off in 2008, when they beat Chivas USA in the conference semis before losing to New York in the conference final (the Red Bulls were a “crossover” team, playing in the West because they had a better record than the West’s 4th place team, Colorado). That’s a bit of history the Timbers hope to change.

Portland will have almost a full roster available for Thursday. Diego Valeri will start after playing just 60 minutes in Seattle on Saturday. Darlington Nagbe, also taken out early on Saturday, will be rested, as well. Maxi Urruti has been training this week, meaning he might be available for the match. His spot on the bench could be a game-time decision.

Seattle will have an “all-hands-on-deck” approach. Everyone is available to make the 18-man match roster, including DeAndre Yedlin and Obafemi Martins, both recovering from injuries. Schmid also said that he is going to wait until the team sheets are turned in before announcing whether Michael Gspurning (who missed Saturday’s match after a red card against Colorado on October 30) or Marcus Hahnemann will start in goal for the Sounders.

But whoever starts for the Sounders in goal will have the same the same task. That’s to keep Portland off of the scoreboard and give Seattle a chance to take the match, the playoff series and be ready to host another playoff match on Sunday night.

No matter what happens, this playoff series will go down in Cascadia lore, right there with Portland’s 1975 sudden-death overtime triumph and Seattle’s extra time win in 2004. With showers and temperatures in the 40s expected, it will feel like a typical fall night in Portland.

And by the night’s end, we’ll know what type of history was made. It could be a stunning win for Seattle, moving them on to the conference finals for a second straight year, rewriting the end of what has been a tough finish and having them start preparations for a home match on Sunday night.

Or it could be another triumph in an amazing season for the Timbers, beating their fiercest rivals and getting ready to travel to face either the LA Galaxy or Real Salt Lake in the conference final. It would be another MLS first in a season of firsts for Portland.

By time the night ends at JWF, we’ll know which chapter was written.

NEXT UP: November 7 – Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders, JELD-WEN Field, Portland, Ore. 11 p.m. EST, NBC Sports Network, Univision Deportes.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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