Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers
After playing to a tense 0-0 stalemate in leg one of the Western Conference Championship on Sunday night, the Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City will meet for leg two tonight at what promises to be a frigid Children's Mercy Park.

The Timbers will advance to MLS Cup with a win or score draw. For Kansas City, only a win will do. The stakes could hardly be higher (6:30 p.m., TV on ESPN).

The Opponent

On Sunday night, Sporting did what they always do in Portland: stay compact, get a couple of bounces, and hold the Timbers at bay. They've now shut Portland out in six of their last eight trips to Providence Park which is, in itself, a remarkable achievement.

In the context of this series, Sunday night's scoreless draw has made Sporting's task straightforward. Win tonight's game, and they're in the final.

They have every reason to be confident. Much like the Timbers, Sporting has been formidable at home this year — winning 11 of 18, including a wild 4-2 second leg triumph over Real Salt Lake in the last round of the playoffs, and keeping seven clean sheets.

Kansas City's home playoff record since moving to Children's Mercy Park is even better: 6-1, with a plus-five goal difference. A number of those games were played in sub-freezing temperatures, most notably MLS Cup 2013, and while Thursday night won't be that cold, the temperature is expected to be in the 30s.

The Tactics

The first leg, especially early on, did necessarily play out as expected. The Timbers pressed hard and committed numbers forward from the get-go, while Sporting sat deeper and proceeded with more caution going forward than they have in months.

On Thursday night, we should see a return to form for both teams: Sporting holding the ball for long stretches and pressing high up the field when they don't have it, the Timbers sitting deeper and looking to do most of their attacking damage on the counter.

It's a setup that should suit the Timbers just fine. Their defense played well in similar situations in Dallas in the Wild Card game and then in Seattle eight days later, and they only need one goal to make Kansas City's job very, very difficult.

The worry is that Kansas City's offense should have more punch than it did on Sunday night with Diego Rubio returning from suspension to take Khiry Shelton's place in the starting lineup. Rubio isn't the holdup player that Shelton is, but he's a natural finisher and a much sharper player in possession.

Another player to watch for Sporting is Felipe Guiterrez. The Chilean struggled somewhat in the first leg, but is key to his team's ability to generate offense from the middle of the field. Set pieces, meanwhile, might be an advantage for the Timbers — they came close to converting several on Sunday night, and Sporting struggled mightily to defend them in their home leg against Salt Lake.

Should this game get as stretched late on as the first leg got, it's not going to finish scoreless. Another 0-0 isn't impossible given the quality of the defenses — and Portland's was nearly as good as Sporting's was on Sunday night — but it isn't likely either. Mark Geiger will be the referee.

The Lineups

Sporting Kansas City

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

— There had been some concern about Zusi's status after the first leg, but Peter Vermes said he's fully available.

Portland Timbers

1 - Attinella
4 - Villafaña
24 - Ridgewell
25 - Tuiloma
16 - Valentin
20 - Guzman
21 - Chara
10 - Blanco
8 - Valeri (C)
27 - Asprilla
17 - Ebobisse

— Larrys Mabiala's injury is reportedly just a sprained ankle, but he's out for this one. Tuiloma filled in capably on Sunday night, as he did in the first leg against Seattle, and will start in his place.

— The real question mark is over Andy Polo, who picked up a calf strain on international duty and wasn't involved in the first leg. He's questionable for this one, with Asprilla — whose performance Giovani Savarese praised on Sunday night — next in line to start.

— Savarese opted for Alvas Powell over Valentin on short rest for the second leg against the Sounders, but Valentin played very well on Sunday night and seems more likely than not to retain his place.

The Memory

The Timbers have won just one game in Kansas City in their MLS history, but it was a doozy: a back-and-forth 3-2 triumph over a championship Sporting team that established Portland as a contender early in Caleb Porter's first season.

The Pick

This is a true tossup. You could make good cases for either team, and both will like their chances. But the target the for the Timbers is lower. It will finish 1-1, and Portland will return to MLS Cup.