The Seattle Sounders made things interesting with their 90th-minute goal on Saturday.
But the Portland Timbers still have the edge in more ways than one.
The Timbers’ 2-1 lead through 90-plus minutes at Seattle gives them dual ways to approach Thursday’s MLS playoff series finale — and emerge as the aggregate-goal winner.
When the teams kick off at 8 p.m. Thursday at Jeld-Wen Field (NBC Sports), the Timbers can go for the jugular or sit back and protect their advantage.
Seattle, on the other hand, has only one good option for the game: to go forward and press the attack.
The Sounders, who trailed 2-0 until their late goal at CenturyLink Field, dominated in chances, although the quality of those chances was debatable.
“They had some shots from distance,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter said. “They didn’t have a ton of great looks.”
Still, it’s not likely that the Timbers would be thrilled at giving Seattle another 20 shots, 11 corner kicks and other set pieces for U.S. national team captain Clint Dempsey and company.
“We showed that we can carry the game,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “We just have to go down there and carry the game to them and score.”
Dempsey is still rounding into form after a shoulder injury, and he remains a key threat for Seattle, having come close on various corner kicks or shots in game one.
“I was happy with the looks I got and getting touches,” he said. “It just seemed like one of those nights where it wasn’t going to go in for me.”
One thing to watch Thursday will be how Dempsey holds up or gets even stronger.
“He has played three games now in a week without preseason, so a little fatigue affects your sharpness,” Schmid said. But, Schmid added, “I think you’re going to see a guy pretty close to fitness Thursday.”
No one can argue that the Portland defense and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts have performed fittingly for a team that led the MLS Western Conference in regular-season points.
“They’ve been great,” Porter said. “The last nine games, they’ve been very tight, very organized.
“In the playoffs, you have to defend well.”
The Portland attack has been good enough, as well, and opportunistic. Ryan Johnson and Darlington Nagbe scored at Seattle.
“I never know who’s going to score, but I know someone’s going to score,” Porter said, “because we’re a team that plays together. We defend as a team, we attack as a team.”
Defender Jack Jewsbury caused the Sounders some problems with his ability to slip down the sideline and get the ball into the middle. Jewsbury’s run and sharp cross led to Johnson’s header for a 1-0 Portland lead 15 minutes into the opening game.
But Schmid said the Sounders made some adjustments that helped curtail Jewsbury’s influence.
“Early in the game, we gave him too much space,” Schmid said. “Adam (Moffat) was tucked in too far, as was Leo (Gonzalez). So Jewsbury got a number of touches. You saw in the second half that really disappeared.”
The first game of the series was a predictably physical match — physical, at least, in terms of a lot of pushing and shoving and grabbing, with Portland called for 21 fouls, Seattle 13.
“I’ve never seen a high-level soccer game where it wasn’t somewhat physical,” Porter said. “You’ve got two good teams — teams that don’t want to lose.”
And the Timbers clearly have the mind-set that they won’t. Especially with the final leg of the series at home.
“This team is very confident,” Jewsbury said. “We’re very comfortable in the way we’re playing. We can morph into different teams depending on how the game is going. If it’s direct, we can fight with you. If it settles down, we can possess and go that way.”
Said Porter: “They’ve got to come in our home field and get a piece of us in order to get through, and I like our chances.”