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Sounders head to Portland for decisive second leg

Post by Don Ruiz / The News Tribune on Nov. 6, 2013 at 7:34 am with No Comments »
November 6, 2013 7:34 am

The Sounders and Timbers are both training in Portland today, the eve of the decisive second leg in their Western Conference semifinal playoff series.

I hope to have information from both sessions later. Until then, here are some notes from the Sounders:

Trailing by one goal following the first leg, Seattle Sounders FC continues its quest for the 2013 MLS Cup with the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Portland Timbers on Thursday night. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. PT from JELD-WEN Field.

Thursday’s match will be broadcast nationally by NBC Sports Network with Arlo White and Kyle Martino on the call. The match will also be available on 97.3 FM with Ross Fletcher and Kasey Keller calling the action.

Sounders FC fought its way into the conference semifinals with a win over the Colorado Rapids last Wednesday in the Knockout Round. Brad Evans notched his first playoff goal for Sounders FC while Eddie Johnson scored late to secure the win.

Seattle then hosted Cascadia rivals the Portland Timbers on Saturday night in the first-ever MLS Cup Playoffs match between the two sides. The top-seeded Timbers took a 2-nil lead, but Osvaldo Alonso’s 90th minute goal pulled Seattle well within striking distance.

Portland leads the aggregate series, 2-1. A one goal win by Sounders FC would force overtime, and a win by two goals or more would advance Seattle to the conference championship. A draw or loss would result in elimination for Sounders FC.

Seattle has won its past four elimination games in the MLS Cup Playoffs, including wins in the second leg of the conference semifinals in 2011 and 2012, a win in the second leg of the conference championship last season and last week’s win over the Rapids in the Knockout Round.

Thursday marks the first-ever postseason match at JELD-WEN Field, where the Timbers posted the best home record in MLS this season. The match will be Seattle’s fourth game in a 12-day span, which began with the regular-season finale on October 27.

The winner of the two-game, aggregate-goal series will advance to the Western Conference Championship to face the victor of the Salt Lake-Los Angeles series.

It’s Been Done Before
There have been three instances in MLS history in which a team has come-from-behind to advance in a two-game, aggregate-goal series after losing the first leg by one goal at home. The Colorado Rapids were the first to accomplish the feat in 2006, falling behind 2-1 after the first leg to advance past Dallas on penalty kicks in the road leg. In 2010, the San Jose Earthquakes overcame a one-goal deficit to oust the Red Bulls on the road, 3-2. Most notably, the 2012 MLS Cup Champions Los Angeles Galaxy fell down 1-0 to San Jose following the first leg at home, and advanced with a 3-1 win in the second leg.

Survive & Advance
With hopes to survive and advance, Sounders FC will draw from its prior success in elimination games in the chase for the 2013 MLS Cup. When facing elimination in the playoffs, Sounders FC has gone 4-2-0, including wins in its past four elimination games. In last season’s series win over Real Salt Lake, Sounders FC earned a 1-nil win on the road – a result that would force extra time on Thursday night in Portland.

Seattle has also had success in knockout tournaments outside of the MLS Cup Playoffs. In the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup – a single-game elimination tournament – Seattle has won 18 of 21 matches while losing just once in regulation (18-1-2 all-time).In the CONCACAF Champions League, Seattle advanced past the play-in round in 2010 and 2011, and has gone 1-1-1 in the second leg of the tournament’s knockout round, including a win against Tigres and draw at Santos earlier this season.

Overall, Seattle has posted a record of 24-4-4 when facing elimination from tournament play, including eight wins, two draws and a loss in the past 11 knockout games dating back to March of 2012.

Seattle Can Overcome
Sounders FC has entered the second leg of a two-leg series down one goal on four occasions in club history, going 2-1-1 with a plus-three goal differential (seven goals scored, four goals allowed). In the 2011 play-in round of the CONCACAF Champions League, Seattle dropped the first leg against Panama’s San Francisco FC, 1-0, but came back in the second leg to advance after extra time. Earlier this season in the Champions League, Sounders FC downed Tigres, 3-1, after a 1-nil loss in the first leg, and later earned a 1-1 road draw at Santos in the semifinals after falling behind 1-0. Seattle’s lone loss after being down one goal was in the second leg of the 2010 Western Conference Semifinals against Los Angeles, falling 3-1 on aggregate.

The Late, Late Show
Sounders FC has a penchant for the dramatic, fighting until the final whistle of every match. In the opening two playoff matches this season, Sounders FC has scored two goals in the 90th minute or later, including Eddie Johnson’s insurance tally against the Colorado Rapids in the Knockout Round and Osvaldo Alonso’s 90th minute strike against the Portland Timbers on Saturday. Scoring late in the playoffs is nothing new for Seattle as seven of the team’s nine all-time postseason goals have been scored after the 56th minute, including Mario Martinez’s 81st minute winner against Salt Lake last season. Sounders FC has scored four goals in second-half stoppage time this season with Djimi Traore and Brad Evans both notching the latest goals (94+) in club history while Obafemi Martins scored twice after the 90th minute. Overall, Sounders FC has scored 20 goals in the 90th minute or later in club history. Still, the team has scored the third-most first-half goals (24) in MLS this season, averaging 0.71 goals in the opening 45 minutes.

On the Road Oddity
In the 2012 MLS Cup Playoffs, five of the six teams that played on the road in the second leg advanced. Houston, Los Angeles and Seattle all ousted their higher seeded opponents in the semifinals while the lower seeded Galaxy and Dynamo advanced in the conference championships. DC United’s series win over the New York Red Bulls in the conference semifinals was the only instance in last year’s playoffs that the higher seed advanced out of a two-game series.

In the 42 all-time two-leg series in MLS history, the teams that have played on the road in the second leg have advanced 20 times. Teams winning the first leg have won 19 times while teams losing the first leg have advanced 11 times. The home team has gone 25-7-10 all-time in the second leg of a two-game series.

Four Seed’s the Charm
A No. 4 seed has reached the MLS Cup Final three of the past four seasons, including the winners in 2009 and 2012. Overall, the fourth seed from the Western Conference has reached the MLS Cup Final four times in league history, including the Colorado Rapids (1997), LA Galaxy (2005 and 2012) and New York Red Bulls (2008). Additionally, the two teams that played for the 2010 MLS Cup were both three seeds, though Colorado finished fifth in the West and was moved to the Eastern Conference playoffs bracket.

Four Games in 12 Days
Thursday night will mark Seattle’s fourth game in a 12-day span, beginning with the regular-season finale on October 27 against the LA Galaxy. Sounders FC then hosted Colorado in the midweek Knockout Round and Portland on Saturday in the semifinals, and the busy stretch concludes on Thursday at Portland. If Seattle advances to the Western Conference Championship, the team will play a total of five games in 15 days, followed by a two-week break before the second leg.

Sounders FC has plenty of experience playing games in quick succession as 15 of the team’s 41 games across all competitions this season were played on four days or fewer rest. The team has gone 6-7-2 in those games, including two pairs of back-to-back wins in May and September as well as the victory in last Wednesday’s Knockout Round. Seattle has also had three games in one week several times in club history, going 19-11-8 and outscoring opponents 52-45.

Seattle on Road
Sounders FC hits the road on Thursday for the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinals. Seattle has won just once in five road attempts in the MLS Cup Playoffs, and holds a 1-2-1 all-time record at Portland’s JELD-WEN Field. Seattle’s 17 road points were tied-third in the Western Conference this season. Since entering MLS in 2009, Sounders FC has posted the second-best road record (29-28-24, 111 points).

Portland at Home
Thursday night marks the first-ever MLS Cup Playoffs match at JELD-WEN Field. The Timbers were the best home team in MLS this season, piling up a league-high 38 points while posting the second-longest home unbeaten streak (15 games). Portland has not lost at home since March 9, and has dropped points in only six of the 17 home matches. Portland has allowed just 11 goals at JELD-WEN Field, which is the second-fewest this season.

MLS Cup Playoffs Format Notes
Ten clubs will qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs – the top five in points from each conference at the end of the regular season.

Conference Semifinals – Two-game, aggregate-goal series to be played between No. 1 seed/Knockout Round winner and No. 2 seed/No. 3 seed. First leg is hosted by the lower seed with the second leg at the higher seed’s home venue. First leg begins November 2 or 3 with the second leg on November 6 or 7. Winners advance to Conference Championship.

Conference Championship – Two-game, aggregate-goal series to be played between Conference Semifinals winners. First leg is hosted by the lower seed with the second leg at the higher seed’s home venue. First leg begins November 9 or 10 with the second leg on November 23 or 24. Winner advances to MLS Cup.

MLS Cup – Single match championship played between the Western Conference and Eastern Conference champions. The match will be played at the home venue of the team with the higher regular season point total on December 7.

*If the score is tied after 90 minutes of play in the Knockout Round, second leg of Conference Semifinals or Conference Championship, or MLS Cup, two 15-minute extra time periods will be played in their entirety, followed by kicks from the penalty mark, if necessary.

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