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Storylines: Seattle Sounders vs Portland Timbers (2018 MLS Playoffs)

The Timbers are up 2-1 headed to Seattle, can they pull off a win in the Emerald City?

MLS: Western Conference Semifinal-Seattle Sounders FC at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Story So Far

The stage is set for a showdown up north, with the Portland Timbers up 2-1 on aggregate in the Western Conference semifinal. After the Sounders scored early in the first leg, things looked a bit daunting until Jeremy Ebobisse tied things up putting the Sounders on the back foot. Then as he’s done all season, Sebastian Blanco got on the ball in the box and put one past one of the best keepers in the league, Stefan Frei.

It’s come down to leg two, with the Timbers having the slight edge, though Seattle did get the all important away goal, which means keeping a clean sheet is the best outcome, along with a Timbers win.

One Night. One Match. Season on the line.

City of Fish

Brian Schmetzer's squad now have time to regroup and prepare for Thursday night. Sunday’s match was a typical derby match if there ever was one. Two of Seattle’s players were taken off with injuries, Chad Marshall and Cristian Roldan. As such, Schmetzer will undoubtedly have to make some adjustments, as Marshall just underwent surgery, and Roldan is currently listed as questionable.

You can’t deny the season the Sounders have had, coming from being at the bottom of the pile to hitting an amazing stride in the back half of the season. Schmetzer made some adjustments in the second half of leg 1 that increased chances for the Flounders, but it was nothing the Timbers couldn’t handle.

What To Watch For

Seattle Sounders (2nd Seed)

Sounders vs Timbers

The Sounders came out in their best starting XI to face the Timbers and they gave a strong showing just not enough to overcome the 2-1 deficit. I’d expect for Brian Schmetzer to make some needed adjustments going into leg two. One of the things he’ll have to work out is how to get Ruidiaz more touches in more dangerous areas. The Timbers were pretty good about isolating him. He had around 30 touches in Portland and took three shots, two off target and one goal.

The Sounders kept trying to go down the wing, and attacked Valentin’s side a lot, where he did get roasted on a couple of occasions. So I’d suspect they’re going to go with what brought them to the dance. Play the ball out to the wings, charge down the pitch, and cross it into the box.

As far as injuries go, Chad Marshall is done for the playoffs. He had surgery to repair damage to his meniscus. According to coach Brian Schmetzer, Cristian Roldan (thigh injury) will be a game time decision. So Marshall out, and Roldan a game day call. Who will they go with in the center of the defense? My best guess is Roman Torres who replaced Marshall during the match.

Left-back Brad Smith is still listed as questionable, he’ll possibly replace Nouhou Tolo if he’s ready to go; otherwise, expect the same pairing at full-back that the Timbers faced in Portland.

Portland Timbers (5th Seed)

Timbers vs Sounders

Time for some real talk, if the Sounders played like they had in the first 10 minutes or so of the match, the Timbers would be down goals headed to Seattle. Luckily that didn’t happen, the Timbers caught fire and kept pressure on Seattle. Though, I’d say they’re not too happy giving up an away goal. So the Timbers will just have to go out and get the first goal of the evening come Thursday night. Simple, right?

While it isn’t mentioned on the league injury report, David Guzman could be out for this second leg. He got hit on the noggin’ and might be in concussion protocol. As of this writing I have no real update on him and I’m going to roll with the idea that we’ll have to play on without him. This means that most likely Lawrence Olum (or Andres Flores?) will start in his place, something I’m not overly keen on, but it might have to happen. Something I am keen on is the return of Larrys Mabiala; he’s sat out his red card and will be available for selection and will no doubt get the start Thursday night.

I would look for the Timbers to try and replicate what they did on Sunday. Absorb pressure, bend - don’t break and hit on the counter. When the counter is working, there aren’t many teams in the league that can shut down the Timbers.

While both teams have to deal with a short turn around, I would suspect a first choice XI from both squads. If the Timbers stick to Gio’s game plan, I think they can pull off the win and advance to face either RSL or Sporting KC in the Western Conference Final. But that’s neither here nor there at the moment. It’s all about one match, Seattle - after that we can talk about what’s next.

Log Slices

The Timbers are now 3-0 in MLS playoff matches against the Sounders, and the Timbers will look to make that 4-0 to advance to the Conference Finals. In eight playoff matches through the years of the rivalry (since 1975), the Timbers have won a total of five of those matches.

The last time these two teams squared off in the postseason in Seattle, Portland recorded its first-ever MLS playoff win, registering a 2-1 victory on Nov. 2, 2013. In addition, Portland won the only meeting between the two sides at CenturyLink Field during the regular season in 2018, receiving a brace from defender Larrys Mabiala in a 3-2 win on June 30.

The Timbers did a good job in the first leg of isolating Ruidiaz for the most part. Here are Raul Ruidiaz’s offensive distribution and shots on goal.

Raul Ruidiaz vs Portland

As you can see the, Timbers only let Ruidiaz get the ball in the box three times. Except for the goal, he was pretty quite most of the night, thanks to the Timbers defense. This will be key in Seattle, keeping him out of the box and isolated much like they did in Portland. Keep him out of the box and you all but neutralize what he brings to the Sounders. It’ll be interesting to see how Ruidiaz and Schmetzer will deal with it during the flow of the game.