Sounders FC vs. Portland Timbers
MLS Cup Playoffs; Western Conference Semifinals
November 2, 2013, 7 pm PT; CenturyLink Field
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network; 97.3 FM; La Gran D 99.3 FM (Spanish)
The rivalry between Seattle and Portland has produced some of the great soccer battles in MLS over the last three seasons in a feud that dates back to the North American Soccer League in 1975.
And while the feud may cause for more hype around Saturday’s opening leg to the playoff series between the two sides at CenturyLink Field, it doesn’t change Sounders FC’s approach to the two-leg, aggregate-goal series.
“From a standpoint of the approach to the game, it’s the same,” Seattle Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re playing your rival or you’re playing another team that’s not considered your rival. The most important thing is you want to advance and get to the next round.”
On Seattle’s side of the ball, Sounders FC has picked up its play in recent matches to build toward this moment in the Western Conference Semifinals. Even during a four-game losing streak, it was creating goal-scoring chances, but struggled to convert. In two prior matches this week, though, Seattle played the Galaxy to a 1-1 draw and topped the Colorado Rapids 2-0. Coming off of those results, the club has reason to be optimistic about its chances against Portland, particularly because Schmid feels there is still more in the tank for the Sounders.
“I think the play on those goals was quality possession, good attacking play and we just have to continue to do that and finish those chances when we get them,” Schmid said.
Additionally, Seattle will need to contain some of the dangerous attackers in Portland’s lineup.
That will mean slowing Diego Valeri, who led the Timbers with 10 goals and 13 assists, including two goals and one assist in the regular season finale against Chivas USA.
He has many quality teammates to play to, as well, with Will Johnson, Ryan Johnson and Darlington Nagbe all finishing with nine goals and Rodney Wallace notching seven. Cutting off the service at Valeri will be a focus for Seattle, though.
“You just need to know where he is and contain him,” Schmid said. “He’s dangerous when he gets a chance to run at the defense and we need to make sure we keep him at bay.”
Likewise, Portland will have its hands full with Clint Dempsey. Now playing a freer role as the attacking midfielder in a diamond formation, Dempsey has one goal and one assist in the last two matches and has thrived in his new role.
“I think he has taken to the role playing as the attacking midfielder,” Schmid said. “As we develop more understanding of where we’re going to be then that just allows him to get more balls in dangerous positions.”
While Dempsey has become more prominent for Seattle, the Sounders will also be making some changes to the lineup that topped Colorado on Wednesday. Right back DeAndre Yedlin will be a gameday decision with an ankle injury and goalkeeper Michael Gspurning will miss the match while serving a red card suspension, meaning Marcus Hahnemann will get the start on Saturday.
The names on the jerseys don’t matter as much as the dedication to success, though.
“It’s playoff soccer,” Schmid said. “I know they’ll be committed to their task and to trying to win the game and we’re committed to the same.”