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Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers
More than two weeks after their heart-stopping triumph in the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinal in Seattle, the Portland Timbers are ready to take the field at Providence Park for the final time in 2018 — knowing that a win would put them on the precipice of MLS Cup (4:30 p.m., TV on Fox Sports 1).

The Opponent

Sporting has appeared in every MLS Cup playoff competition since 2011, and have firmly established themselves since then as one of the league's most competitive, best-run clubs.

Despite that, the club's playoff history after winning MLS Cup in 2013 had been abysmal. After the championship season, Kansas City lost four straight road Wild Card games — two in or after extra time — and scored just three goals in the process.

This year, however, things are different. Sporting used a late-season run to win the regular season Western Conference crown, avoid the Wild Card round, and clinch a thrilling, chaotic second leg victory over Real Salt Lake two weekends ago to advance to their first conference championship series in five years.

Kansas City isn't anywhere near as good on defense as they have been in the past, but they're far better going forward — scoring 25 more regular season goals this year than they did last year, and putting up five over the two legs against RSL.

They still press high and try to turn teams over in their own half, but they're also more than comfortable in possession and have the creativity and athleticism to break games open from sustained, patient buildups. They're playing well.

The Tactics

The Timbers and Sporting have always, from the very beginning, played excellent, tight games at Providence Park. The regular season meeting this year finished 0-0, with the last six seeing just six goals scored in total — three by each team.

How has Kansas City played so well in such a tough venue? The quality of their defending has consistently been superb. But they also, somewhat like Seattle, have always and especially this year had the ability to limit the Timbers' attacking opportunities simply by holding the ball.

That'll come in handy again on Sunday. Expect Kansas City to keep low-pressure possession for long stretches, with the Timbers picking their spots to apply pressure and spring forward on the counter.

One thing to watch early is how high and how hard Sporting push their fullbacks, namely Graham Zusi on the righthand side. If they push up as they usually do, the Timbers are going to have space to exploit when the ball turns over.

Peter Vermes has been all about attacking this year, but is that a risk he's comfortable taking? Since adopting the 4-2-3-1, Portland has — the Vancouver game excluded — scored 13 goals in five games, all against playoff teams, and the last thing Kansas City wants is to go home facing a deficit against a team so well equipped to play with a lead.

The reliable Robert Sibiga is Sunday's referee, while the conditions should be clear and just moderately cool.

The Lineups

Portland Timbers

1 - Attinella
4 - Villafaña
24 - Ridgewell
33 - Mabiala
16 - Valentin
20 - Guzman
21 - Chara
11 - Polo
8 - Valeri (C)
10 - Blanco
17 - Ebobisse

— Guzman missed the second leg of the Seattle series injured, but has since returned to training. If he can't play, Andres Flores could fill in again next to Chara.

— Polo and Villafaña both featured for their national teams over the break, with Villafaña appearing as a substitute for the U.S. in their loss to Italy on Tuesday and Polo starting in Peru's loss to Costa Rica.

— With a short turnaround ahead of the second leg, Giovani Savarese may opt to rest one or both players to have them fresh for the game in Kansas City. If Villafaña sits, Valentin will slide over to left back and Alvas Powell will play right back. If Polo is held out, Dairon Asprilla and Flores would be possibilities.

— Diego Chara, Diego Valeri, and Liam Ridgewell will all be suspended for the second leg if they pick up a yellow card.

— Samuel Armenteros hasn't appeared in the playoffs, and it seems safe to say that Lucas Melano — who was pretty, pretty decent at CenturyLink Field — will continue to be the first striker off the bench.

Sporting Kansas City

28 - Melia
15 - Sinovic
5 - Besler (C)
3 - Opara
8 - Zusi
6 - Ilie
17 - Espinoza
21 - Gutierrez
7 - Russell
20 - Salloi
14 - Shelton

— Sporting will be dealing with a significant absence: Chilean striker Diego Rubio, who had a brace against the Timbers in August, is suspended for yellow card accumulation.

— To replace him, Vermes has several options: Oregon State product Khiry Shelton is a very solid holdup player, but has just two goals in nearly 1,500 minutes this year. Krisztian Nemeth and Yohan Croizet could also enter, with Salloi shifting to the number nine in the latter scenario.

— The other question mark is Russell, who was with Scotland over the break and made one substitute appearance. He didn't the club games immediately after the September or October international breaks, but the stakes here are obviously much higher.

— Espinoza is the one Sporting player in danger of a yellow card suspension.

The Memory

There isn't another one like it. The last time these two teams met in the playoffs, they produced a classic that may be equaled, but never topped.

The Pick

Kansas City has an extremely small margin for error in this game, and the Timbers will get one or two looks. They'll win 2-1, and head into the Thursday with everything to play for.