After rolling through MLS for the final three months of the regular season almost entirely without incident, the Sounders hit some serious adversity on Sunday in Portland.
At the end of the first half, they lost what had been a 1-0 lead, and lost both Christian Roldan and Chad Marshall to injury. Seattle clamped down in the second half and kept the margin at 2-1, but their backs are to the wall heading into tonight.
Marshall, who underwent surgery on Tuesday, is out. Roldan, who'd only missed seven minutes of Seattle's season until Sunday, is a gametime decision with a hip flexor. Marshall alone, both for his defending and his set piece prowess, is going to be badly missed.
Still, the Sounders have retained an air of confidence. They've won an awful lot of games at CenturyLink in big spots over the last three years under Brian Schmetzer, and their primary attackers — Nico Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz — both had strong first legs. They won't be an easy out.
The basic structure of the game should be fairly obvious. The Timbers will sit back, absorb pressure, and counter. Seattle will possess and attack — somewhat cautiously, they only need one goal so long as the game is scoreless.
If all goes as expected and there isn't an early goal, the game should look at lot like the beginning and middle of the second half in Portland did.
That doesn't, however, mean that the Timbers won't have any attacking ambition. If Portland does get a goal, the Sounders will need two to tie the series and three to win it — a tall task against what has been a very competent defense with Jorge Villafaña, Liam Ridgewell, and Larrys Mabiala all starting.
Giovani Savarese is a fairly attacking coach anyway, and he won't want to shackle his best players. As good as Seattle's defense is, especially numbers up, the Timbers should get their chances.
Tactically, this sets up well for the Timbers. They'll get to play their game. If Seattle doesn't get a first half goal, the second half very well might turn into a scramble.
24 - Frei
5 - Nouhou
20 - Kee-hee
29 - Torres
18 - Leerdam
4 - Svensson
6 - Alonso
19 - Shipp
10 - Lodeiro
8 - Rodriguez
9 - Ruidiaz
— The big decision for Schemtzer is who to start on the wing opposite Rodriguez if Roldan is out. Waylon Francis was chosen over Harry Shipp when Roldan got hurt on Sunday, but mainly out of concerns over Shipp's fitness. Handwalla Bwana is also an option.
1 - Attinella
4 - Villafaña
24 - Ridgewell
33 - Mabiala
16 - Valentin
20 - Guzman
21 - Chara
11 - Polo
8 - Valeri (C)
10 - Blanco
17 - Ebobisse
— Larrys Mabiala, after serving his suspension in the first leg, will take Bill Tuiloma's place.
— David Guzman exited on Sunday with dizziness after clashing heads with Gustav Svensson at the end of the first half. If he can't go, it'll be Lawrence Olum as the 6.
— Zarek Valentin was heavily targeted by the Sounders in the first leg, and looked fairly vulnerable against the tandem of Nouhou and Waylon Francis. It'd be big surprise, but there is a very remote possibility that Alvas Powell could start tonight.
This will be the Timbers' first trip to CenturyLink for a playoff game since 2013 — when they won 2-1 on the strength of goals from Ryan Johnson and Darlington Nagbe.
Seattle will pile on the pressure, but won't be able to keep the Timbers' counter attack quiet for 90 minutes. Portland gets a goal, and gets through with a 1-1 result.