Sounders FC vs. Portland Timbers
MLS Cup Playoffs; Western Conference Semifinals
November 7, 2013, 8 pm PT; JELD-WEN Field
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network; 97.3 FM
In the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinal series with the Portland Timbers, Sounders FC had a very strong contingent of players watching the match from the press box. Due to injuries and a suspension, three key contributors were watching from above as Seattle fell behind 2-1 in the aggregate goal series and they are all working towards a return to the pitch for the second leg in Portland on Thursday.
“It’s very hard because you want to be on the pitch. It was tough to look from that view,” said goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who will return to eligibility after a one-match suspension for a red card in the Knockout Round victory over the Colorado Rapids. “One thing is for sure, we suffered with the whole team. We had the same fire up there as the other guys on the field.”
Two days away from kickoff of the biggest games of the season, Sounders FC is as ready as it can be for the second leg.
That was the mentality of Head Coach Sigi Schmid as he took the team through its last training session in Seattle before heading down to JELD-WEN Field for a training session on Wednesday ahead of the highly-anticipated, nationally-televised match on Thursday night. Although Lamar Neagle is out on yellow card accumulation, Seattle will have Gspurning returning as a possibility at goalkeeper and Obafemi Martins, DeAndre Yedlin, Zach Scott and Leo Gonzalez all did what was expected of them on Tuesday.
“They were able to do what we wanted them to do,” Schmid said. “We were pleased. We’re as healthy as we can be right now.”
Gspurning, Martins and Yedlin make up quite a potent trio of players for Seattle this year.
Gspurning started in 28 matches this season and has a career goals against average of 1.04. In five playoff starts, he is 3-1-1 with a 0.81 goals against average, including two shutouts.
Yedlin led the Sounders with 30 starts and 2,710 minutes in his rookie season after signing as the club’s first Homegrown Player.
In his first season in MLS, Martins had eight goals and four assists in just 17 starts. Seattle was 11-5-4 in his 20 appearances, but he started only once in the final five regular season matches and has yet to appear in the postseason.
“His speed can create danger and his quickness,” Schmid said of Martins. “We just have to see if he’s ready.”
Gonzalez has been hampered by a groin injury, but played in both playoff matches last week.
“Leo gave a lot of himself in playing those two games in a tight timeline. We’ll see how he is,” Schmid said. “He’s another one who’s a tough character.”
Scott, meanwhile, cracked a rib against the Timbers on Saturday, but remains a possibility for Thursday’s match.
No Away Goals Tiebreaker
In the MLS Cup playoffs, away goals are not counted as the first tiebreaker. So on Thursday, Seattle needs any victory by one goal to send the match into two 15-minute extra time periods. If the match is still tied after that, it will advance to kicks from the penalty mark. A win by two or more goals would mean a series win for Sounders FC.
The winner between Seattle and Portland will advance to face the winner of the series between Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy. Los Angeles leads the series 1-0 after the first leg on Sunday and the second leg will be at Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday at 6 pm PT.
Joseph Makes His Mark
Shalrie Joseph returned to the midfield for Sounders FC last Saturday after missing nearly two months with a knee injury. Joseph came on late in the second half, playing the final 13 minutes of the semifinal matchup. In the waning moments of the match, his flicked header found Osvaldo Alonso in the box for a 90th minute goal as Sounders FC pulled one goal back heading into the second leg on Thursday.
“He’s been healthier, he’s been training better. He was someone we kept on the bench in case we just needed a big option up front,” Schmid said. “Sometimes it takes a few minutes to get into the game, and into the rhythm of that game, which was fairly end-to-end at that juncture, and we’re changing systems again to put him into the game, but I thought he contributed on that goal, which was an extremely important moment for our team.”