The Portland Timbers are carrying a 2-1 lead into the second leg of their Conference Semifinal match up against the Seattle Sounders. In the four days since the first leg, both teams have made their adjustments as Caleb Porter, the league's new blood, attempts to outfox one of the longest tenured MLS coaches, Sigi Schmid.
The Timbers came away from Seattle with a lead by defending well and making the most of their attacking opportunities. At home and in front of the Timbers Army, Portland will likely look like a much more aggressive team, looking to put Seattle under pressure and regain their two goal lead early on.
Diego Valeri is still dealing with the adductor strain that has cast a shadow over the last two months of the season for him, but he will likely start again today. Although extra time and penalties are a possibility, and keeping Valeri on the pitch long enough to take part in either seems inadvisable, the Timbers would certainly much rather win this one in regular time and giving Valeri the start is their best bet to do so.
Another place that the Timbers could make a change is at number nine spot. Although Ryan Johnson grabbed the opening goal with a good near post run in Seattle, the Timbers will likely want someone with more speed and energy to close down Seattle's defenders and really put some pressure on their back line. The clinical finishing of Johnson might be appreciated late in the game, but to start things off Jose Adolfo Valencia is a good possibility as the Timbers look to stretch Seattle again and Valeri and Darlington Nagbe more room to work in the midfield.
While the Timbers have relatively few heavy decisions to make, the Sounders are faced with several big ones.
Up top Seattle will be missing Lamar Neagle thanks to his two yellow cards in the first two games of the playoffs, which will see him suspended for this match. Neagle may not have the flash or the credentials of the rest of the Sounders' strike force, but he did chip in eight goals and four assists over the course of the regular season as he filled in time and time again for injuries and call-ups.
Ideally for the Sounders, Seattle's third designated player (in addition to Mauro Rosales and Clint Dempsey), Obafemi Martins, would step in and take Neagle's place in the starting line-up. The groin injury that kept Martins out of the first leg of this playoff series has him once again listed as questionable, but Sigi Schmid said on Tuesday that he was improving. If Martins is not able to start the game up top for the Sounders it may mean abandoning the 4-4-2 diamond formation that Seattle seem to have settled on for the last few games and bringing Clint Dempsey forward while giving Mauro Rosales back his starting spot in the wide midfield, an adjustment that could give the Sounders a serious creative boost and/or a big defensive liability.
Martins is not the only potentially returing player for the Sounders, however, with DeAndre Yedlin likely coming back into the line-up at right back. If he plays, Yedlin will provide the Sounders with an added dimension to their attack with his long, dangerous runs forward. Yedlin can cover ground better than any of the Sounders' other possibilities at right back, but he is prone to getting stuck forward and having attackers get in behind him, which can stretch out the Seattle defense or pull Oswaldo Alonso out of position from the midfield, both of which will give the Timbers spaces to exploit.
Finally, Michael Gspurning will also be available after serving his one game suspension for denial of a goal-scoring opportunity in the Sounders' play-in game against the Colorado Rapids. Schmid would not say if Gspurning would start or is Marcus Hahnemann would stay in goal for Seattle.
Through the second half of the season, this Portland Timbers team has been nothing if not in control. Riding a one goal lead and a home unbeaten run that stretches to March, the Timbers are the favorites here.
First Leg: Timbers lead 2-1
Watch it on: NBC Sports
Kick off: 8:00 pm at Jeld-Wen Field
Portland Timbers: 1st Seed in the Western Conference (57 points)
Seattle Sounders: 4th Seed in the Western Conference (52 points)