There were positives for both sides during the first leg of this Western Conference Semifinal MLS Cup Playoff matchup. The Thursday night NBC Sports Network (hi ARLO!) 8 PM game will put all eyes on the Cascadia Rivals for a fifth time this season.
Again helping us preview the match through a Q&A is Michael from Stumptownfooty.
What needs to stay the same?
Being patient and not worrying about aesthetics. Since September, the Timbers really haven't played anything like the fancy, attractive style that the national media is just now catching up to. The reality has been more pragmatic and a bit more conservative. Just because the Timbers come back to Portland with a one-goal lead does not mean Caleb Porter should necessarily go for the kill in a way that exposes his solid but always at risk defense.
What needs to change?
Portland needs to keep its focus for the entire match, regardless of the score. Saturday's game was the third time this season the Timbers have given up a goal from the 90th minute to the final whistle, with each occasion costing full points or in last weekend's case, an extremely valuable first leg lead. As a team, Portland is the embodiment of its coach, so expect the Timbers to go into Thursday's game with confidence and a strong understanding of specific roles. A late game let down, like they had on Saturday, would be the costliest slip this year.
Seattle needs to continue to push the ball into dangerous areas. They threatened numerous times and were just off on a couple shots that would have changed the game. Considering that was unusual on the season hopefully that means keeping the Diamond for at least one more game. Even though this means Dempsey is sitting a bit deeper than some in the national media like, that resulted in him threatening to score several times. Sigi Schmid will be thrilled if Clint can run the offense like he did in leg one.
What needs to change?
Finishing. That's easy to say and hard to do with personnel changes being forced due to Neagle's 2nd Playoff yellow card, but the fact is that if a club takes 12 shots from within the 18 and only gets a single goal it has problems. Some of this issue should be mitigated by having Obafemi Martins as an available bench option.
Defending passes into wide spaces. Diego Valeri had a rather pedestrian performance, but that may be because Sounders FC put a hint too much pressure on him and allowed men like Jack Jewsbury the time to set up amazing switches. Giving just a bit more of a body in his way should reduce the effectiveness of Portland's second route to the attack. The two wide mids have to prevent those cross pitch passes so that the fullbacks can still enter into Seattle's offense.