The league's most-hyped rivalry is renewed in the playoffs as the Timbers travel to Seattle for the first leg of a Western Conference semifinal series.If the Cascadia feud between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders wasn't heated enough, the clubs' first MLS playoff meeting promises to raise the intensity yet another notch.
The teams open their two-leg Western Conference semifinal Saturday as the top-seeded Timbers travel to CenturyLink Field to visit the fourth-seeded Sounders at 10 p.m. on NBCSN. It will be the first playoff match in the Timbers' three-year MLS history.
Portland secured the top seed (and home field in the decisive second leg) after finishing with a 14-5-15 record, with a 5-0-3 stretch to wrap the regular season. Seattle, meanwhile, earned passage with a 2-0 win over the Colorado Rapids in Wednesday's play-in game after the Sounders went 15-12-7, including a season-ending 0-4-1 skid.
The Timbers enter the match relatively healthy, with striker Maximiliano Urruti's hamstring strain the only notable concern. Seattle, on the other hand, could be without right back DeAndre Yedlin (ankle), playmaker Mauro Rosales (knee) and forward Obafemi Martins (groin).
If Yedlin can't go, that likely means a start at right back for Sounders utility man Brad Evans. With Michael Gspurning suspended, veteran Marcus Hahnemann is poised to start between the posts. Otherwise, the Sounders should deploy the same lineup that defeated Colorado, with Clint Dempsey at the top of a diamond midfield.
Seattle's alignment could make for an interesting contrast of styles as the Sounders face Portland's 4-3-3. With Portland midfielders Will Johnson and Diego Chara doing the dirty work centrally, Seattle's Osvaldo Alonso will need help from his wingers to win that battle and keep Diego Valeri (10 goals, 13 assists) off the ball.
Elsewhere on the field, Portland center backs Futty Danso and Pa Modou Kah figure to have their hands full containing Seattle strikers Eddie Johnson and Lamar Neagle. And the Timbers' Darlington Nagbe should be a tough matchup on the flank for Sounders left back Leo Gonzalez.
This is the teams' third tilt this year in Seattle, after a 1-1 draw in March and a 1-0 Sounders win in late August. But the Timbers won the most recent match, a 1-0 result Oct. 13 at Jeld-Wen Field.