Seattle Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid thinks goals are tougher to come by in the Major League Soccer playoffs.
That’s really saying something when it comes to the two-game, aggregate-score Western Conference semifinal between Schmid’s Sounders and the Portland Timbers, which begins Saturday at CenturyLink Field.
Only four goals were scored over their three regular-seasons meetings: two goals for each side, as both clubs took 1-0 wins along with a 1-1 draw.
“I think both teams respect each other, so they play each other very tough from the defensive standpoint,” Schmid said. “Although they’ve done a good job going forward, they also get nine guys behind the ball oftentimes, so they make it tough to break them down and to get through. Possession’s going to be important in this series, as it is in every series; but possession in the right part of the field is important. … In the playoffs, goals are hard to come by.”
Both of Seattle’s regular-season goals against Portland were scored by Eddie Johnson. And Johnson, along with U.S. national teammates Clint Dempsey and Brad Evans have accounted for Seattle’s last three goals overall: Dempsey in the regular-season finale against Los Angeles, and Evans and Johnson in the 2-0 win over Colorado on Wednesday that put the Sounders through to this round.
“Both teams have talented players that can obviously score goals,” Portland coach Caleb Porter said. “With Seattle, I think the biggest thing for us is we have to manage their talent. They’re a very talented team. They have great players. (We have) a lot of respect for the club; what they’ve done, their coach, their players.”
While the Timbers might be focusing on the Sounders’ national team trio, Seattle’s defense could be paying particular attention to midfielder Diego Valeri, who was Portland’s regular-season leader in goals, shots, shots on target, assists and game-winning assists.
“We need to know where he is, contain him,” Schmid said. “He’s dangerous when he gets a chance to run at the defense, and we have to make sure we keep him at bay.
“That’s the way it is every game. There’s always one or two guys from the other team that you want to sort of keep at bay, make them adjust a little bit, make it harder for the guy to play.”
The Sounders will be playing without one and perhaps two of their key defensive contributors.
Right back DeAndre Yedlin missed the second half of the Colorado game with an ankle sprain. He was limited in the Sounders’ two training sessions since, and is questionable. If he is unable to go, Schmid said possible replacements include Evans, Zach Scott or rookie Dylan Remick.
Meanwhile, Marcus Hahnemann will make his fifth start of the season, replacing No. 1 goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who is ineligible after being issued a red card against Colorado.
Hahnemann, 41, agreed that goals, and most everything else, become tougher in the postseason.
“I think playoffs are playoffs,” he said. “The game against Colorado had a whole different feel during the game than our last couple of games against Colorado. Everything is do or die. There’s more tackles going in. I think the refs reffed the game a little bit differently, as well. I think everything changes. It is the playoffs.”
The final score from this first leg will combine with the score from the second and deciding leg Thursday in Portland.
Seattle is 0-3-2 in first-leg matches, and in 2011 and 2012 the Sounders ran up three-goal deficits that they couldn’t overcome.
“We talked about it,” Schmid said. “We know what we have to do. We’ve done very well in the second game of two-game series, so we’ve just got to be sure that we take care of the first game appropriately.”
NO. 1 PORTLAND TIMBERS AT NO. 4 SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC
7 p.m., CenturyLink Field
TV: NBCSN. Radio: 97.3-FM, 99.3-FM (Spanish).
Club leaders: For Portland: G 10, Diego Valeri; A 13, Valeri; S 72, Valeri; SOG 26, Valeri; GAA 0.97, Donovan Ricketts. For Seattle: G 9, Eddie Johnson; A 8, Mauro Rosales; S 61, Lamar Neagle; SOG 27, Johnson; GAA 1.00, Marcus Hahnemann.
Head to head: Seattle leads the MLS series 3-2-3. The teams went 1-1-1 this season, with the Sounders going 1-0-1 at home.
Notes: This is the first of a two-game, aggregate-score Western Conference semifinal series. The first leg can end in a draw. No special status is given to road goals. The series winner advances to the conference finals against the winner of the series between No. 2 Real Salt Lake and No. 3 Los Angeles. … In the regular season, Portland won the West with a 14-5-15 record. Seattle was fourth at 15-12-7. … The Sounders went 10-2-5 at home; the Timbers were 2-4-10 on the road. … Portland led MLS with a plus-21 goal differential. The Timbers were second best in goals allowed and third in goals scored. … Portland also led the league with 15 shutouts, including five in its last six games. … Hahnemann will start in goal for Seattle after No. 1 keeper Michael Gspurning was issued a red card for handling the ball outside the box Wednesday in the 2-0 knockout-round win over Colorado. … NFL lines and numbers will be on the field because of the Seahawks-Tampa Bay game at the stadium Sunday afternoon. … Sounders Lamar Neagle and Eddie Johnson would be suspended for the second leg if they get yellow cards in this match. … The referee is Baldomero Toledo.
Quotable: “They’re more experienced (with 11 playoff matches over five seasons). But if you’re looking at 2013, we’ve had a very good year. That’s what we’re focused on now. Our group knows that if we play well, that we can beat anyone, home or away.” – Portland coach Caleb Porter on the Timbers’ first MLS playoff appearance.
Next: The resolution game of the two-leg series starts at 8 p.m. Thursday at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland.
3 KEYS TO VICTORY
1. PLAY TO ZERO: These teams combined for four goals over their three regular-season meetings. With goals at such a premium, the Sounders don’t want to concede anything on their home field.
2. FOLLOW YOUR STARS: Seattle’s last three goals have come from their three U.S. national team players: Brad Evans, Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson. With the season on the line, those top players will need to lead.
3. OPEN WITH URGENCY: Two of the Sounders’ worst efforts have come in opening games of aggregate-score series: a 3-0 loss at Salt Lake in 2011, and a 3-0 loss at Los Angeles last season. Seattle made up ground in both resolution games, but not enough to advance.