Sporting Kansas City v Portland Timbers

MLS Playoff Preview: Timbers look to finish off rival Sounders

  • Portland won series opener in Seattle, 2-1
  • Timbers are unbeaten at home since March
  • Sounders expect injured Yedlin, Martins to be available

PORTLAND, Ore. — Maybe we’re over-thinking this. Seattle has been a consistent postseason participant and have an absolutely loaded squad, but they’ve also won one of their last nine games, and traveling to JELD-WEN Field on Thursday, they’re facing a Portland team with all the indicators in their favor: nine games unbeaten; two straight wins over Seattle; 15 games unbeaten at home; the league’s best goal difference; only five losses in 35 games. Between two teams tending in opposite directions, is there any reason to believe Seattle can knock off the Timbers on Thursday?

Of course there is. Seattle shouldn’t be considered favorites, but with weapons like Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey, they certainly have a puncher’s chance. A clicking Osvaldo Alonso is the best defensive midfielder in Major League Soccer, Brad Evans has gone from massively underrated to finally appreciated, and on Saturday, Mauro Rosales showed he can still influence a game. The Sounders have enough weapons to land a punch, especially if an inexperienced Timbers team proves willing to expose their chin.

Watch the game tonight at 11 p.m. ET on NBCSN or watch it on NBC Sports Live Extra

There are, however, a few reasons to think Seattle will be better than Saturday and, by inference (they only lost by one), capable of getting a result in Portland:

  • Seattle should be significantly healthier. Right back DeAndre Yedlin, who turned his ankle in the Sounders’ first round game against Colorado, will almost certainly play, and the team is optimistic Obafemi Martins will return from a groin injury. Each could provide an upgrade on Thursday, be it as a starter (Yedlin’s most likely role) or off the bench (Martins, who could yet start).
  • The Sounders could switch formations, going away from the narrow diamond midfield that cost them on Saturday. A move back to their typical 4-4-2 could allow them to move Rosales into the starting lineup, moving Evans to the left and Clint Dempsey up top. With Lamar Neagle suspended (yellow card accumulation), the decision could come down to whether Martins is able to start.
  • Seattle will have also learned from Portland’s tactics, with people now starting to realize the possession-dependent Timbers that’d been adored throughout the season disappeared two months ago. Against a Timber team willing to cede possession, the Sounders must be willing to play the extra pass and try to create better chances. On Saturday, they should have chosen quality over quantity.

But whereas Seattle will institute some of those tweaks, Portland’s not hard to predict. The only lineup question ahead of Saturday’s game was who would start at striker. But with Ryan Johnson getting on the scoresheet in Seattle, the Jamaica international seems likely to get the call on Thursday, particularly given the Sounders are unlikely to make any changes in central defense.

[MORE: MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on the Seattle Sounders ahead of Thursday’s visit to Portland]

“We felt his strength in the air, his physicality, ability to hold the ball up, his athleticism, his pace and power was a good matchup against [Sounders defenders Jhon Kennedy] Hurtado and [Djimi] Traore,” Caleb Porter explained, asked for the reasons he selected Johnson Saturday night.

source:  Even if Portland stays with the same XI, one change is guaranteed: The crowd. The over-20,000 who’ll sellout JELD-WEN will strive to impress against their regional rivals, Seattle’s fans having had their chance to do the same on Saturday. Then, the Sounders’ Emerald City Supporters’ weekend tifo featured a large skull beneath a banner reading “WELCOME TO YOUR NIGHTMARE” (right). The Timbers Army will certainly try to outdo their rivals in support.

But beyond personnel and lineup choices, changing tactics or shifting venues, the implicit question people seem to be asking is whether Portland’s for real. Their final standing in the West says one thing, as do all the underlying numbers, but having never made it this far before (and having undergone such a steep and unexpected rise to get here), people are understandably incredulous. Not only has Portland never won before, but we’ve never really see a team like this — a collection of disparate parts assembled under a neophyte boss — succeed in MLS. Until that happens, people will compare them to the Los Angeleses, Real Salt Lakes, and Seattles of the world, teams they’re used to seeing in the postseason, and wonder whether they can get it done.

[MORE: MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on the Portland Timbers ahead of their visit from Seattle]

On Thursday, Portland will either continue all the trends or justify the doubts, but given those doubts have been proven wrong throughout the season, it might be best to acknowledge the data, see a team that’s lost only five times this year, and recognize Portland are probably much bigger favorites than we’re giving them credit for.

MLS Snapshot: FC Dallas 4-1 Houston Dynamo

CHESTER, PA - MARCH 21: Tesho Akindele #13 of FC Dallas celebrates his second half goal with his teammates against the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park on March 21, 2015 in Chester, Pennsylvania. Dallas won 2-0. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
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The game in 100 words (or less): FC Dallas completed the season sweep over their in-state rivals, defeating the Houston Dynamo 3-1 tonight at Toyota Stadium. Dallas won all three meetings between the two clubs, outscoring Houston 10-2 in the process. David Texeira scored a brace for the home side today, who sit atop the Western Conference, tied with the Galaxy on points. Houston remains three points behind Portland and San Jose for the final playoff spot in the West. Raul Rodriguez picked up a late red card for the Dynamo, and will be suspended for the rest of the season.

[ RELATED: What we learned from Arsenal’s win over Manchester United ]

Three moments that mattered

25′ — Mauro Diaz penalty puts Dallas ahead — Rasheed Olabiyi took down the shifty Fabian Catillo in the box, giving FC Dallas a penalty kick. Mauro Diaz stepped up to the spot and slotted it home, giving the home side a lead.

51′ — Texeira scores on a long-range strike — Ricardo Clark had drawn Houston level in the first half, but David Texeira put Dallas back ahead right after the break. Texeira picked up the ball about 25 yards out and rifled a shot off the crossbar and in, a beautiful strike from Uruguayan.

53′ — Acosta wastes no time to make it 3-1 — Immediately after Texeira had given Dallas the lead, Kellyn Acosta scored to make it 3-1. Fabian Castillo rolled a pass into the box, where Acosta buried it into the top corner.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: David Texeira

Goalscorers: Diaz (PEN, 25′), Clark (36′). Texeira (51′, 90’+3′), Acosta (53′)

Red card: Rodriguez (89′)

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Villarreal suffers first loss

Michal Duris, Eric Bailly
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Catch up on all of this weekend’s action from Spain and Italy’s top flights.

Levante 1-0 Villarreal

Villarreal suffered its first loss of the La Liga season, falling 1-0 away to Levante. Levante entered the match without a win, but were able to take advantage of the league leaders, who were forced to play most of the match with ten men after Bojan Jokic was sent off in the first half. Despite playing a man down, Villarreal nearly held on for a draw, but Deyverson scored in the 83rd minute to give Levante the upset win.

Atletico Madrid 1-1 Real MadridMORE

Real failed to capitalize on Villarreal’s loss, as an early season Madrid derby ended in a 1-1 draw. Karim Benzema’s stellar form continued as the French striker put Real ahead early in the match, but Luciano Vietto equalized with less than ten minutes to play for Atleti. Real Madrid sits second in the league, one point behind Villarreal.

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup ]

Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Valencia

After a big win over Lyon in the Champions League, Valencia fell 3-1 to Athletic Bilbao in La Liga play. Dani Parejo gave Valencia the lead 20 minutes in, but Athletic responded with three unanswered goals to earn a win for Ernesto Valverde’s men.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Rayo 0-2 Real Betis
Celta Vigo 0-0 Getafe
Sevilla 2-1 Barcelona
Espanyol 1-2 Sporting Gijon
Malaga 3-1 Real Sociedad
Granada 1-1 Deportivo
Las Palmas 0-2 Eibar

AC Milan 0-4 Napoli

Napoli traveled to the San Siro and got a massive win, thrashing AC Milan by four goals. Lorenzo Insigne continues to score for Napoli, as the striker bagged a brace for his side, who have now won three straight in Serie A. The loss was Milan’s first dropped points at home this season, as the Rossoneri have been shutout in consecutive matches.

[ RELATED: Zlatan becomes PSG’s all-time leading goalscorer ]

Juventus 3-1 Bologna

Juventus followed up a win in the Champions League over Sevilla with a win in Serie A over Bologna, who have lost six of seven matches to open the season. Alvaro Morata scored again for Juve, while Sami Khedira also got on the scoresheet, the German’s first goal for his new club. The result was just the second league win of the season for Juventus, who move up to 12th on the table.

Sampdoria 1-1 Inter Milan

After opening the season with five straight victories, Inter Milan is now winless in two after drawing away to Sampdoria. On the heels of a loss to Fiorentina, Inter fell behind to Sampdoria after Luis Muriel put the hosts ahead. However, Inter grabbed a point through Ivan Perisic, who scored his first goal for the club since joining from Wolfsburg this summer.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Carpi 2-1 Torino
Chievo 1-1 Verona
Empoli 1-0 Sassuolo
Palermo 2-4 Roma
Lazio 2-0 Frosinone
Fiorentina 3-0 Atalanta
Udinese 1-1 Genoa