Portland feeding off underdog role into Sporting KC semi
Field Level Mediaon
The Portland Timbers have embraced the underdog role in the MLS playoffs.
The fifth-seeded Timbers went on the road and defeated FC Dallas in the knockout round, then survived penalty kicks to oust their Cascadia Cup rival, the Seattle Sounders, in the Western Conference semifinals.
They will open the home-and-home conference final against top-seeded Sporting Kansas City on Sunday at Portland's Providence Park.
"That's good if they want to doubt us. We'll take that," Timbers defender Larrys Mabiala told The Oregonian. "We don't really listen to what people say about us. We just focus on our work. If they want to say we're underdogs, that's fine. That won't change the way we approach games and the way we play."
Sporting KC defeated Real Salt Lake 5-3 on aggregate to win its previous series.
The conference finalists met twice in the regular season, a 0-0 draw in June at Portland and a 3-0 win for host Sporting KC in August.
SKC's Diego Rubio scored twice in the first half of that regular-season victory but will miss Sunday's series opener, suspended for yellow-card accumulation.
"History doesn't mean anything," SKC coach Peter Vermes told The Kansas City Star. "Not anymore. There's way more to a playoff game. It has different consequences, different effects. It's just a different game.
"When you get to this point in the year, some of that stuff gets thrown out the window a little bit. Every game has the feel of a final. You're just trying to capitalize on their mistakes and minimize your own. I'm sure they're thinking the same way."
Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco led the Timbers in scoring with 10 goals apiece this season. SKC was led by Daniel Salloi, who scored 11 goals. Johnny Russell scored 10 and Rubio netted eight.
SKC goalkeeper Tim Melia was second in MLS with 13 shutouts this season while the Timbers' Jeff Attinella had a sterling 1.05 goals against average.
After playing three playoff matches in nine days, the Timbers will have had 16 days off thanks to the international break.
"It (was) a really tough stretch of games. I think the rest and getting everybody healthy is going to be good," Attinella told The Oregonian, "but, at the same time, you want to ride that momentum coming off this big win (against Seattle)."
Sporting KC has a 7-3-4 advantage against the Timbers in regular-season play, including 4-2-2 in Portland. In the only previous postseason meeting, the Timbers won 7-6 in the 11th round of penalty kicks in 2015 on their way to the MLS Cup title.