The Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders renew their rivalry Thursday night. This time, the stakes have been raised, as a spot in the Western Conference final is on the line.
In the first leg of this two-legged affair, the Timbers came through with a big 2-1 win at CenturyLink Field. While away goals don't count in this instance, going into Seattle and walking away with a win is still a huge result.
Jeld-Wen Field will be electric for this fixture. Overcoming a one-goal deficit will be difficult for the Sounders in such a daunting atmosphere. Portland lost just one match there the entire season.
Here's a quick preview for the newest entry in this Pacific Northwest derby.
When: Thursday, Nov. 7, at 11 p.m. ET
Where: Jeld-Wen Field, Portland, Ore.
TV Info: NBC Sports Network
Live Stream: MLS Live
Portland Player to Watch: Donovan Ricketts
It's not a matter of if, but how much Donovan Ricketts will be tested. The Sounders have too much strength in the attack to go out with a whimper. Seattle will have plenty of shots on goal and opportunities to either tie or go ahead in the tie.
The entire Portland defense has been doing its part, especially at home. According to MLSSoccer.com, the Timbers have gone 450 minutes without surrendering a goal at home. The last goal came on August 21 against Real Salt Lake.
Still, a lot of pressure could end up being heaped on Ricketts.
The sign of a good goalkeeper is stepping up at a moment's notice to stop a shot.
Who knows—Ricketts may only get tested once the entire game. But he must make sure he remains focused the entire match, or that one mistake could have massive consequences.
Seattle Player to Watch: Osvaldo Alonso
Osvaldo Alonso's goal in the 90th minute is the reason Seattle is still in this tie at all. Erasing a two-goal deficit would have been nearly impossible on the road.
Some might be looking toward Mauro Rosales to make the difference, but in a match that's going to be won in the midfield, you need to rely more heavily on somebody like Alonso.
The 27-year-old has been one of the most important players for the Sounders this season. His defensive play in the midfield can snuff out any Portland counterattack, while his passing will help link up the defense and the attack.
Alonso is also no stranger to picking up a card. Should he lose his temper and make a rash tackle, he could end up putting the Sounders at a man disadvantage. That would erase any chance of them advancing.
Who advances to the final?
This match won't be pretty. It's going to be a chippy affair, with plenty of tough tackles by both sides.
That style will play right into Portland's hands.
The Timbers are used to sitting back and hitting on the counter. They'll be willing to cede possession to the Sounders and sit back to protect the lead. Then, when Seattle leaves itself exposed at the back, Portland will throw its attackers forward.
In addition, should the match get bogged down in midfield, the Timbers have the wide players who will find the open spaces on the pitch down the flanks.
Whether the result is a draw or a win, Portland will be able to see itself through to the final.
Seattle is a different team on the road. At home, the Sounders have scored 29 goals and conceded only 15. On the road, those numbers flip—they've scored just 13 goals and conceded 27. Against an organized Timbers defense, it's hard seeing where the goals will be coming from, especially if the Sounders give up a third.
Portland 1, Seattle 1