Caleb Porter believes the two-leg playoff series between his Portland Timbers and the Seattle Sounders has a chance to be epic.
Certainly, there is plenty of passion behind a rivalry that dates to 1975. Timber fans know that if they beat the Sounders, Portland will have as many MLS playoff victories in one try as Seattle has in five. Sounders supporters would like nothing better than to pour water on the Timbers 2013 turnaround.
The first game of the two-match set is at 7 p.m. today at CenturyLink Field. Portland, thanks to a better regular season record, has the home field on Thursday for the second, and presumably decisive, match.
But who has the edge?
In 10 two-leg playoff series since MLS returned to the format in 2011, the team that hosted the first leg has won six times. So far the second leg at home hasn’t added up to success.
Seattle knows this well. The Sounders have been eliminated the past two seasons by a lower-seeded team that won big in the first leg.
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said this week that he isn’t sure the order of the two matches matters.
“You’re going to play one game at home and you’re going to play one game away. You need to win your home game and get a result (draw) away,” Schmid said.
All things being equal — and all goals are equal in MLS playoffs; away goals do not provide a tie-breaking edge — having the second game at home can be helpful if the teams are tied on total goals through two matches and have to play a 30-minute tiebreaker at the end of Game 2.
But in recent seasons, a good start has meant more than a strong second game in determining which team advances.
Porter said the Timbers will use the same formula that carried the Timbers to the top of the Western Conference in the regular season.
“Obviously, we will be smart in how we organize the group personnel wise, game plan wise,” Porter said. “But we’re not going to change what we’ve been doing. Just play for three points, which is what we’ve done all season long. Which is why we’ve scored so many goals on the road.”
Portland will be the more rested team on Saturday. The Timbers haven’t played since last Saturday’s 5-0 win at Chivas USA. Since then, Seattle played Los Angeles to a 1-1 draw and on Wednesday defeated Colorado in a knockout match for the opportunity to face Portland.
“Playing three games in seven days, it’s a mind over matter thing,” Schmid said. “Sometimes you get into a playing rhythm and the guys feel comfortable with that. They’d rather play than train anyway.”
Schmid added that in past seasons his team has sometimes played its best soccer during busy stretches in the schedule.
“When we were on a three-game rhythm, sometimes we played some of our best soccer. Hopefully that will hold true this time as well.”
Tired or not, the Sounders are probably in a better place than they’ve been for a while. For one thing, Wednesday’s win ended a string of seven matches without a victory for Seattle, a stretch that included four losses in a row.
“They just got a win,” Porter said, “so they’ll probably relax a little bit and have a bit more confidence than they’ve had in the last several games.”