(AP)—- Even with all the stars the Seattle Sounders have on their roster healthy and ready to go, history says getting through to the MLS Western Conference finals by winning Thursday night in Portland will be unlikely.
Since the league went to a two-game, aggregate-goals format for its conference semifinals in 2003, only three of 11 teams have lost the first game at home and gone on to advance by getting a victory on the road.
Trailing 2-1 after Saturday night’s loss to the Timbers, the Sounders will be trying to become the fourth team to accomplish the comeback.
“We know we need to get a goal. I don’t care if we get that goal in the first five minutes or the last five,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “At the end of the day we need to win the game.”
Knowing that they need a goal means the Sounders must be aggressive in pushing forward and getting chances, but be cognizant of their own defensive struggles and make sure they don’t give one up to the Timbers. The Sounders must win by one goal to force extra time. A two-goal victory would advance Seattle to the conference finals, while a draw would be good enough for the Timbers to move on.
Getting chances in the first leg was not the problem for Seattle. The Sounders finished with 20 total shots, including five on goal. While Portland’s Donovan Ricketts made a number of key saves, there were opportunities the Sounders simply didn’t put away. Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey had good scoring chances that they could not convert.
“The last game we ended up having more possession than I thought we were going to have against them. That’s how the game played out for us,” Schmid said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t turn that possession in the first half into goals.”
The optimism for Seattle comes from the amount of attempts it got on goal in the first game and Osvaldo Alonso’s important score in the 90th minute. The late goal made a comeback in Portland feasible, rather than seeming impossible. The Sounders only need a one-goal victory to at least push the match an additional 30 minutes.
Seattle will go into the second leg without forward Lamar Neagle due to yellow card accumulations, but is hopeful of having forward Obafemi Martins and defender DeAndre Yedlin healthy enough to contribute some minutes. Martins has been out with a groin injury, while Yedlin has an ankle injury.
“This is what it’s about - playing in the playoffs,” Dempsey said. “If you can’t get up for these games, then you shouldn’t be playing. It’s an opportunity to go down there and try to do something special.”
The third-year Timbers are also trying to do something special in their first MLS postseason appearance after Ryan Johnson and Darlington Nagbe scored in the first leg.
“We’re one step away,” coach Caleb Porter told the Timbers’ official website. “We obviously have to have a good performance next game Thursday at home. But they have to come on our home field and get a piece of us in order to get through, and I like our chances.”
Seattle lost 1-0 on Oct. 13 in its only visit to Portland this season and is 1-2-1 there all-time. The Sounders didn’t get many chances in last month’s matchup as they were held to 11 shots, three on goal.
“(Saturday’s win) puts us in the driver’s seat coming back home,” Porter said. “Now we’re at home and we’re in a great position. If we win the game at home then we’re through, simple.”