PORTLAND — The Seattle Sounders couldn’t quite bring themselves to say they have the Portland Timbers right where they want them.
Losing at home and having to make up a goal on the road Thursday at Jeld-Wen Field isn’t the position they would have chosen. But three Major League Soccer teams have survived similar situations. And the Sounders’ history indicates they’re far better in second legs than in openers.
“We’ve talked that we have won all three second legs in the last three series, whether it was home or away,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “We just need to go there and win.”
Schmid’s telling of club history is correct, as far as it goes. But while the Sounders have won three straight second legs, in only one case did they avoid elimination. And they have never overcome a first-leg deficit.
In the 2011 conference semifinals, the Sounders lost the opener at Real Salt Lake, 3-0, and were eliminated when their 2-0 home win wasn’t enough.
In the 2012 rematch, the teams played to a scoreless draw in the opening match before Seattle went to RSL and won, 1-0.
In the next round, the Sounders fell behind 3-0 at Los Angeles, and then were eliminated when their 2-1 home win wasn’t enough.
There have been three MLS aggregate-score series in which teams have lost at home yet advanced with wins on the road. The Colorado Rapids did it in 2006, when they fell behind Dallas 2-1 but went on to equalize and then advance on penalty kicks. The 2010 San Jose Earthquakes lost 1-0 at home, and then made it up with a 3-1 win at New York. And last season, the Los Angeles Galaxy fell behind top-seeded San Jose 1-0, advanced with a 3-1 win in the second leg, and continued all the way to the MLS Cup championship.
This week the Sounders embraced their chance to join that list.
“If you can’t get up for these games, then you shouldn’t be playing,” designated player Clint Dempsey said. “It’s an opportunity to go down there and try to do something special. If we’re able to get the right result, it will keep us alive. That’s what we plan on doing.”
Both teams have framed the current situation as Portland holding a one-goal lead going into the second half of a 180-minute competition.
But neither club is quite sure how the other will approach that second half.
Will Portland sit back, or push forward for what could be an early knockout punch? Will the Sounders rush to get even, or concentrate on keeping a clean sheet while patiently waiting for their equalizing goal to come? And if the Sounders do get the first goal, do both sides try to win it in regulation or take their chances in extra time and perhaps eventually with penalty kicks.
“Obviously, we are in a better position, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Portland midfielder Will Johnson said Wednesday. “Both of our seasons are on the line. There’s going to be a lot of intense pressure on both teams. I think there’s still a lot of play for, and we’ve got a good game plan going in to combat any desire to play for a draw. Like I said, we’re going to play for a win.”
The Sounders have no choice but to do the same.
“We can’t just go in there and sit back and say, ‘Oh, we hope they don’t score one and we get one,’ ” midfielder Brad Evans said. “We’re going to have to impose our game on them from Minute One. And I think that we’ve found success in that this year: coming out hot and pressing the game and trying to get a goal early. And I think we’ve been a better team in that style of play.”
SOUNDERS FC AT TIMBERS
3 KEYS TO VICTORY
- Play to zero: Portland led Major League Soccer with 15 regular-season shutouts, so getting even the one needed goal to tie will be a challenge for the Sounders. They can’t afford to raise the bar by surrendering any.
- Convert chances: The Sounders took 20 shots in the series-opening game but managed only one goal. Coach Sigi Schmid often stresses the importance of chances, but in a loser-out match all that matters is results.
- Play like jobs depend on it: Because they do. Players such as Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins were brought in to make Sounders FC the best team in the league. If the team ends up only second-best in the Northwest, no one’s job is safe.
NO. 4 SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC AT NO. 1 PORTLAND TIMBERS
8:23 p.m., Jeld-Wen Field, Portland
TV: NBCSN. Radio: 97.3-FM, 99.3-FM (Spanish).
Head to head: Seattle leads the MLS regular-season series 3-2-3 and has gone 1-1-1 in Portland. The Timbers lead 2-1-1 this season, including their win in the first leg of this series.
Regular-season leaders: For Portland: G 10, Diego Valeri; A 13, Valeri; S 72, Valeri; SOG 26, Valeri; GAA 0.97, Donovan Ricketts. For Seattle: G 9, Eddie Johnson; A 8, Mauro Rosales; S 61, Lamar Neagle; SOG 27, Johnson; GAA 1.27, Michael Gspurning.
Notes: This is the resolution match of a two-game, aggregate-score Western Conference semifinal series. Portland holds a one-goal advantage after its 2-1 win Saturday at Seattle. If the aggregate score is even at the end of regulation, the series will go to 30 minutes of added time. If the score remains even, the series will be decided by penalty kicks. Road goals have no special status. … Portland won the Western Conference regular-season title with a 14-5-15 record. Seattle was fourth at 15-12-7. … The Timbers are unbeaten (11-0-4) over their past 15 home matches. The Sounders are 5-10-2 away from home. … Portland is trying to become the first MLS team to advance in its playoff debut since Real Salt Lake in 2008. Seattle is trying to become the fourth MLS team to advance after losing the first leg at home. … Portland led MLS with a plus-21 goal differential. The Timbers were second best in goals allowed and third in goals scored. … Portland led the league with 15 shutouts. … Michael Gspurning, the Sounders’ No. 1 goalkeeper, is eligible to return after missing the series opener because of a red-card suspension. However, midfielder Lamar Neagle is ineligible after receiving two yellow cards over Seattle’s first two postseason games. … Obafemi Martins (groin) and Leo Gonzalez (groin) traveled, but they remain questionable. … The game-time forecast calls for 55 degrees and a chance of rain. … The game is sold out. … The referee is Hilario Grajeda.
Quotable: “We know we need a goal. I don’t care if we get that goal in the first five minutes or the last five. But at the end of the day we need to win the game. … Our guys know that we want to have a clean sheet in the back and we want to get a goal.” – Seattle coach Sigi Schmid on making up the aggregate-score deficit.
Next: The season ends for the loser. The winner advances to the Western Conference final, meeting the winner of the series between No. 2 Real Salt Lake and No. 3 Los Angeles. That series begins at 6 p.m. Sunday at the home of the lower-seeded club.