The Sounders will be without starting goalkeeper Michael Gspurning when they take on the Portland Timbers in the first leg of a two-leg, aggregate series Saturday at the Clink.
MATCH: Portland Timbers (14-5-15, 1st, MLS West) at Seattle Sounders FC (15-12-7, 52 points, 4th, MLS West). TYPE: MLS Cup Playoffs, West semis, leg 1. WHEN: Saturday, 7 p.m., CenturyLink Field. MEETING: 83rd all-time (Sounders lead 42-29-11 across all competitions; Timbers lead 4-1-3 in MLS play. TV: NBC. RADIO: 97.3 KIRO FM; SPANISH: KOMO2 (Comcast Ch. 114) and La Gran D 99.3 FM.
When the Sounders shocked planet futbol two months ago by signing Clint Dempsey, the expectation was that Dempsey would provide an immediate boost to a Seattle offense that struggled to score. Largely due to Dempsey’s repeated absences — obligations to the U.S. National Team, a number of injuries — it didn’t happen until Oct. 27 when Dempsey, scoreless in seven matches, finally found the net.
A switch to a diamond formation for the match against LA Galaxy finally enabled the Sounders to see how they could be effective. As an attacking midfielder beside striker Eddie Johnson, Dempsey scored his first goal in a 1-1 draw, and came back with an assist on Johnson’s stoppage-time goal in a 2-0, knockout-round victory over the Colorado Rapids Wednesday.
“I think he has taken to the role playing as the attacking midfielder,” said head coach Sigi Schmid. “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 hopes for similar results. Saturday. In their third match in seven days, the Sounders begin a two-match, aggregate-goal Western Conference semifinal series with Cascadia Cup rival Portland in its first MLS Cup playoff game.
The Sounders and Timbers were even in three regular-season games this season, each winning one and the third a tie. In the most recent match, at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, the Timbers prevailed 1-0. Only four goals were scored in the three matches.
The Sounders won’t have to travel and will benefit from the energized CenturyLink crowd. But they will be without goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, sent off in the 85th minute Wednesday for handling the ball outside the box. Marcus Hahnemann finished the match and will start Saturday, a fact that doesn’t disturb Schmid at all.
“Marcus is a quality goalkeeper, it’s not going to be an issue,” Schmid said. “I feel very confident — I always have — that we have two of the better goalkeepers in the league. So we don’t lose anything and we don’t gain anything. Hahnemann’s kicking is a little better than Michael’s, so he might try to score a goal off of a goal kick or something.”
Seattle does not have a good history in the first leg of playoff matches, going 1-3-1 since 2009. Last year, the Sounders couldn’t get past the Galaxy after dropping the first leg 3-0 in the Western Conference finals. Schmid prefers to ignore all that and look ahead.
“It’s a two-game series and we’ll be ready for it,” Schmid said. “We know what we have to do. We’ve always done well in the second game of a two-game series, so we just have to take care of the first game. It doesn’t matter that the first game is at home. You’re going to play two games, one at home and one on the road.
“I think both teams really respect each other and I expect the play to be tough from a defensive standpoint. Possession is going to be important, especially possession in the right parts of the field, and goals are going to be hard to come by.
“We have to be motivated and concentrated as a team and continue to stick with our game plan. The guys were all behind it in the last two games. We have to continue to be behind it. This is a big mind-over-matter game. It’s our third game in seven days, but at the end of the day we’re in a rhythm of playing, so we’re happy about that.”
Johnson subscribes to the idea that momentum will play a major factor and will benefit the Sounders. In their past two matches, the Sounders drew with the Galaxy and defeated Colorado after the Rapids had smoked them 5-1 in the previous meeting. In addition, LA and Houston reached the MLS Cup finals last year after entering the playoffs as low seeds. The Sounders are No. 4 in MLS West.
“We’ve done this before,” said defender Brad Evans, who scored in the 28th minute against Colorado. “When it is a playoff game, you try and throw everything out the window. Is it (the short turnaround) going to be perfect? No, but at the same time it is mental at this point. Coming off a win, you always feel a little bit better.”
In addition to losing Gspurning to the red card, defender DeAndre Yedlin limped off at halftime Wednesday due to a right ankle injury and was replaced by Marc Burch. If Yedlin, whom Schmid said will be evaluated up until game time, can’t go, Schmid has options.
“Brad Evans can play there. Zach Scott came in and played the last few minutes there. He can play there as well,” Schmid said. “Adam Moffat can play there, too.”
The Timbers finished the regular season unbeaten in their final eight matches, including shutouts in their final three. They will enter Saturday’s contest riding a 281-minute shutout streak.
SOUNDERS PROBABLE LINEUP: Goalkeeper — Marcus Hahnemann. Defenders — DeAndre Yedlin, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Djimi Traore, Leo Gonzalez. Midfielders — Adam Moffat, Clint Dempsey, Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alonso. Forwards –Lamar Neagle, Eddie Johnson.
TIMBERS PROBABLE LINEUP: Goalkeeper –Donovan Ricketts. Defenders — Michael Harrington, Pa Modou Kah, Mamadou Danso, Jack Jewsbury. Midfielders — Will Johnson, Diego Valeri, Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe. Forwards — Jose Valencia, Rodney Wallace.
INJURIES: Seattle — Out, GK Josh Ford (right patella fracture). Questionable, MF Shalrie Joseph (right knee sprain). Timbers — Out, None. SUSPENSIONS: Seattle — Michael Gspurning. Timbers — None. INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Seattle — None; Timbers — None.
SERIES: Dates to May 2, 1975, when Portland played its inaugural match in the old North American Soccer League. In all leagues, the Sounders and Timbers have met 82 times. Sounders are 42-29-11. Since Portland joined MLS, Portland leads the series 4-1-3. Sounders and Timbers went 1-1-1 against each other this season. The clubs met most recently Oct. 13 in Portland, the Timbers winning 1-0. Seattle has outscored Portland 11-8 all-time in MLS play.
SOUNDERS STATS / NOTES
COMING UP: The Sounders and Timbers play the second leg of the two-leg series Thursday in Portland.
Seattle Sounders FC 2013 Schedule / Results
(15-12-7, 52 points, MLS; 1-1-0 CCL; 0-1-0 U.S. Open Cup)
|3/6||*at Tigres||7:00||Fox Soccer||L||1-0||0-0-0|
|3/23||^at San Jose||7:30||KING 5||L||1-0||0-2-1|
|5/26||^at LA Galaxy||8:00||ESPN2||L||4-0||4-4-3|
|7/13||^at San Jose||7:30||KING||L||1-0||7-7-3|
|9/21||^at LA Galaxy||7:30||NBCSN||D||1-1||15-8-5|
|10/19||^at FC Dallas||1:00||NBCSN||L||2-0||15-12-6|
*=CONCACAF; ^=Major League Soccer; #=U.S. Open Cup; x-MLS Cup playoffs