Sounders-Timbers Preview

The Associated Press

The Seattle Sounders know they need to pick up the pace with the playoffs fast approaching.

Doing so could prove difficult against the Portland Timbers, who haven't lost at home in more than seven months.

Hoping to avoid a third consecutive loss, the Sounders try to snap the Timbers' five-game unbeaten stretch and claim the Cascadia Cup on Sunday night.

After allowing the most goals in the team's five-year history in a 5-1 loss at Colorado last Saturday, Seattle (15-10-6) saw its franchise-record home unbeaten streak snapped at 14 with Wednesday's 4-1 loss to Vancouver.

"We want to prove ourselves," said midfielder Lamar Neagle, tied for second on the team with eight goals. "We feel like we let up defensively, but we're confident."

Superstar Clint Dempsey had two shots on goal in his return from a hamstring injury, his first appearance since Sept. 13. Dempsey has gone pointless in six games since joining the team in August.

"I've been hurt so I haven't been able to impact the game on the field," he said. "Tonight was the first 45 minutes I've had in a while and for me it was about going out there and seeing where I was fitness-wise and there is some stuff I still need to work on."

The second-place Sounders are one point behind Western Conference-leading Real Salt Lake and one ahead of Portland (12-5-14) with three games remaining. While Seattle has been outscored 11-4 during an 0-2-2 funk, it can lock up a playoff spot with a win Sunday.

The Sounders haven't dropped three straight in the same season since 2010.

"It's a matter of finding our form again," coach Sigi Schmid told the team's official website. "We haven't lost faith or confidence or anything like that.

"What concerns me is just our team. We'll worry about ourselves and the Timbers will be worried about themselves. It's all about us and making sure that we're ready to play."

Seattle is 3-1-3 against the Timbers, most recently winning 1-0 on Aug. 25 behind Eddie Johnson's goal and Michael Gspurning's four saves.

Portland is also nearing a postseason berth after allowing three goals during a 3-0-2 stretch. Since falling 2-1 to Montreal on March 9, the Timbers have recorded 10 clean sheets and outscored opponents 31-7 during a franchise-best 12-0-3 stretch at home, including US Open Cup play.

Portland, which has won its last three home games by a combined 6-0 score, hosts Real Salt Lake next weekend.

"It's great because those are the two teams ahead of us as well, so if we beat those teams then we deserve to be in the top three, if we don't then maybe we don't," coach Caleb Porter said. "Everything is in our hands, we control really our destiny at this point in terms of where we finish."

Portland is coming off a 2-all draw at Vancouver last Sunday. Darlington Nagbe and Will Johnson provided all the offense with two goals and two assists.

The Sounders are two points behind the Whitecaps in the hunt for the Cascadia Cup - the regional rivalry between Seattle, Vancouver and Portland.

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