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November 7, 2013 at 12:39 AM

Sounders FC vs. Portland Timbers, preview and prediction (second leg)

Portland Timbers LogoSounders (No. 4 seed) vs. Portland Timbers (No. 1 seed); Western Conference semifinals, second leg
Thursday, Nov. 7, 8:23 p.m., Jeld-Wen Field, Portland, Ore.
First leg: Portland, 2-1
National TV: NBC Sports Network (Arlo White, Kyle Martino)
Radio coverage: KIRO 97.3-FM/SiriusXM FC (Ross Fletcher, Kasey Keller)
Spanish coverage: La Gran D 99.3 FM
Referee: Hilario Grajeda

KEY TIMBERS PLAYERS

M Will Johnson — Diego Valeri gets a lot of love, but there are a few people out there who feel the Canadian international has been Portland’s MVP this season. As a quick stat drop, the team was 4-0-2 in the regular season when Valeri didn’t start (3-0-0 when he didn’t play), and the team was 2-3-1 when Johnson didn’t play. It might not tell the whole story, but his presence is clearly vital to his team and — let’s be honest — can irritate opponents.

F Darlington Nagbe — Has showed time and time again that he has a knack for producing something special. His goal in the first leg showed remarkable touch, skill and feel for the game. Have to wonder if his best position might be as a more central playmaker (he scored there after Valeri was subbed out), but his talent will make an impact wherever he is. Oh, he’s also started every single game this season.

D Michael Harrington — This is my fifth “preview and prediction” post involving Portland this season, so let’s give some love to the starting left back. A first-year starter after six seasons in Kansas City has led the Timbers this season in minutes 2,951 (a career high) having only missed one start. Amazingly, he’s only committed two fouls in his last eight games.

KEY MATCHUPS

Clint Dempsey vs. Diego Chara — Pretty simple. Seattle runs its game through Dempsey now, so if Seattle is going to make this comeback happen, you have to think its superstar is going to be heavily involved. The stage is there for something special, but it will be Chara’s job to break that up. The two had a memorable meeting before at Jeld-Wen Field: a tackle that resulted in a separated shoulder for Dempsey.

Ryan Johnson vs. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado — A key element to a comeback? Don’t allow goals. Johnson didn’t start the last eight games of the regular season, but he got the call in the first leg, scored a goal 15 minutes in and nearly added another on a late breakaway. The Sounders defense has been up and down this year, and perhaps no one encapsulates that more than Hurtado.

Big brother vs. little brother — Is this potentially the game that changes the dynamic in the rivalry? It’s something I covered in our preview story. Both Adrian Hanauer and Caleb Porter made “little brother” references within the past month, but it will be hard to consider the Timbers as the Sounders’ little brother if they advance to the conference finals.

PREDICTION

As mentioned in the first leg, I have picked Portland to win the series.

I’m not going back on that pick after the Timbers went into CenturyLink Field and got the win. Now they’re coming home on a 6-0-3 streak overall, not to mention that 11-0-4 streak at home.

All that said, the Sounders created a number of chances in the first leg and a number of chances in their last trip to Portland. If this team starts to finish its chances, it could be very dangerous.

A series comeback would not surprise me at all, I’m just not predicting it. Though I do think it will get interesting…

Portland 1, Sounders FC 1 (Timbers advance, 3-2 on aggregate)

SEA — Eddie Johnson (Clint Dempsey) 49′
POR — Diego Valeri (Will Johnson) 65′

*     *     *

What do you think? Epic comeback in store?

| More in Preview and prediction

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