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Porter banked on Sounders, and now Timbers must contain Seattle's 'talent'

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: NICK FOCHTMAN - Portland Timbers coach Caleb PorterCaleb Porter says he went to Seattle to watch Wednesday's MLS playoff game knowing who would win between the Sounders and Colorado Rapids.

"We've prepared for Seattle, because we knew they would most likely win," Porter said Thursday.

The Sounders came through for him, eliminating Colorado 2-0 Wednesday night at CenturyLink Field and putting themselves into the MLS Western Conference semifinals against Porter's Portland Timbers.

Game one is 7 p.m. Saturday at CenturyLink Field, and game two is 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7 at Jeld-Wen Field, and the team with the most total goals will advance to the conference finals.

To win the Seattle series, the Timbers must do one thing for sure, Portland's coach said.

"The biggest thing for us is to manage their talent. That's a very talented team. Great players," he said.

The difference between Seattle and Colorado on Wednesday "was Seattle's talented players," Porter said. "Brad Evans scores a great goal (in the first half), and Eddie Johnson jumps a couple of defenders and has a great finish (in the closing minutes)."

Seattle and Portland went 1-1-1 against each other this season. The Sounders played host to the first two games, and Portland won the finale 1-0 at home on Oct. 13.

That Timbers victory came during a Sounders slump in which Seattle was 0-4-3 and was outscored 15-5.

"They've made some changes," Porter said, after watching the Colorado match. "They've adjusted some of their tactics. They're playing out of a different system. I think they feel that's unlocked them. I think they felt they needed to do something.

"To some extent, (the changes) highlight some of their key pieces a bit more. (Clint) Dempsey has kind of a free role under their strikers. Dempsey, Johnson and (Lamar) Neagle ... those three guys have a lot of freedom to create. And they have talent.

"Their structure is different. Those are things we'll adjust to and that we are well aware of."

The three regular-season meetings produced a total of four goals. Porter said the series also could be low-scoring, although the output could be greater, especially given the aggregate-goal format.

"It's hard to predict football," Porter said. "I would say that (regular-season scoring total) probably is pretty similar to how this series is going to go. But especially in that second leg, you never know. When teams have to start chasing the game, they get a little more open, because teamns are out if they don't score goals."

A low-scoring match "happens often in games where you've got two good teams. And yet, the game could open up, and if it does, both teams have talented players who can score goals."

The Sounders, as a club, have more experience, but Porter said he doesn't think his team will be at a disadvantage, even though it will be making its first appearance in the MLS playoffs.

"This is the fifth time they've been in the playoffs, and last year they were able to get to the conference championship (game)," he noted, "but we have seven or eight guys who have been in playoffs -- MLS or overseas -- guys who have played for league championships or cup tournaments, so we have a lot of seasoned guys who have been in this position individually.

"And the stretch run we've had ... we've played L.A., Salt Lake, Seattle, Colorado, so I think we're really ready for that level, and we've geared up for the playoffs."

With Western Conference regular-season champion Portland making its MLS postseason debut against its major rival, and with large and loud crowds expected at both stadiums, the series is attractive to the league in more ways than one.

"I won't take too much time thinking about all the periphery stuff," Porter said. "Those other things are nice, I do think it's great for the league to have a Sounders-Timbers match-up. I hope it will be an epic series, one that people will talk about."

The playoffs won't be that much different in intensity than some of the key regular-season games, Porter said.

"A soccer game is a soccer game," he said. "You've got fans in the stands, 22 guys, one ball."

In the regular season, Portland went 14-5-15 (57 points), with a plus-21 goal differential. Seattle was 15-12-7 (52 points), and stood even in goal differential.

The Timbers were plus-3 on the road, however, to the Sounders' minus-14 away.

To claim the series and move on to the Western finals, "We know we have to play well, like we've had to do all season against good teams," Porter said. "You don't win unless you play well.

"At the same time, I don't think we have to have a miracle game to get through this series. They (the Sounders) are more experienced, but if you're looking at 2013, we've had a very good year. Our group knows that if we play well, we can beat anyone, home or away."