The Portland Timbers took the field at Providence Park for the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals Sunday, just four days after ousting FC Dallas in the knockout round of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
The short turnaround didn’t seem to faze the Timbers, who fought back to earn a big 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders Sunday.
But Portland must now overcome yet another short turnaround if it hopes to close out the series and advance to the next round of the MLS Cup Playoffs.While the other three second leg conference semifinals games in MLS will take place Sunday, the second leg of the Portland-Seattle series was moved up to Thursday in Seattle due to a car show taking place at CenturyLink Field this weekend.
“It definitely changes things because you have to think about different components, different than if you had to play weekend after weekend,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said. “This is what has been thrown at us. This is what we have in hand. We have to go forward and deal with it and make sure we make the best out of it.”
The Timbers would advance to the Western Conference Championship series with either a win or a draw in Seattle in the second leg of the Western Conference semifinals Thursday. Portland could also advance with a loss, depending on the scoreline. If the series is tied on aggregate at the end of regulation Thursday, the club with more away goals would advance in the playoffs.
But the decision to move up the second leg of the series to Thursday could have a significant impact on how the game plays out.
Portland’s starting lineup will be competing in its third game in nine days Thursday and will need to put in a good performance at a difficult venue to advance in the MLS Cup Playoffs. The Timbers would have been playing their fourth game in just 12 days Thursday if Savarese hadn’t madea calculated choice to rest his starters in the club’s regular season finale on Oct. 28.
Overcoming the short rest could be a challenge for the Timbers. Portland struggled during compacted schedules this year, posting a 2-6-1 record over three separate stretches of three games in either seven or eight days during the MLS regular season.
“You can’t get a nice fixture matchup,”said Timbers defender Zarek Valentin about the second leg of the series being moved up to Thursday.“I think it’s a little bit ridiculous to be completely honest, but at the end of the day, both teams have to deal with it. So, as bad as it is, both teams have to deal with that aspect of it and we have an incredible staff that will keep us as fresh as possible.”
The Timbers hold a poor 1-7-3 all-time MLS regular season record at CenturyLink Field. But the club earned its only regular season victory in Seattle earlier this year and also beat the Sounders at CenturyLink Field when the two clubs last faced each other in the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2013.
And even though they will be playing in a hostile environment Thursday, the Timbers will head to CenturyLink Field with confidence after taking a 2-1 advantage in the first leg of the series.
“First and foremost, we have to recover and take care of our bodies because it’s going to be a difficult game up there,” Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse said. “There’ll be a lot of running and a lot of dirty work we’re going to have to do to make sure that we get the result. Seattle knows that they’re down and they’re going to push for a result.”
When Major League Soccer first announced last week that the second leg of the Western Conference semifinal series between Seattle and Portland would be moved up to Thursday, it looked like the change would benefit the Sounders.
While both Seattle and Portland will be dealing with a compacted schedule, the Sounders will only be playing their second game in five days, as opposed to their third game in nine days.
But Seattle defender Chad Marshall and midfielder Cristian Roldan both left the first leg of the series with injuries Sunday. Marshall is undergoing surgery this week on his meniscus, while Roldan is day-to-day with a hip flexor injury, according to Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer. While the date of the second leg wouldn’t have made a difference in Marshall’s case, Roldan could have benefited from extra time to recover.
The Timbers could be missing two players Thursday as well, but their potential absences are unlikely to be as detrimental. The Timbers are still evaluating David Guzman (head injury/hamstring injury) and Samuel Armenteros (thigh injury) to determine if either play can feature in Thursday’s game.
Despite the short turnaround, Savarese said his players looked energized at training Tuesday morning and would be ready for Thursday’s match. With so much on the line, Savarese is hopeful that his club won’t allow the compacted schedule to impede its performance Thursday.
“We’re going to a place that’s going to be difficult against a good team, another rivalry match, but we feel pretty positive going there,” Savarese said. “We’re recovering pretty fast and we’re ready to perform.”
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