PORTLAND — The Seattle Sounders couldn’t quite bring themselves to say they have the Portland Timbers right where they want them.
Losing at home and having to make up a goal on the road tonight at Jeld-Wen Field isn’t the position they would have chosen. But three Major League Soccer teams have survived similar situations, and the Sounders own history indicates they’re far better in second legs than in openers.
“We’ve talked that we have won all three second legs in the last three series, whether it was home or away,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “We just need to go there and win.”
Schmid’s telling of club history is correct, as far as it goes. But while the Sounders have won three straight second legs, in only one case did they avoid elimination. And they have never overcome a first-leg deficit.
In the 2011 conference semifinals, the Sounders lost the opener at Real Salt Lake, 3-0, and were eliminated when their 2-0 home win wasn’t enough.
In the 2012 rematch, the teams played to a scoreless draw in the opening match before Seattle went to RSL and won, 1-0.
In the next round, the Sounders fell behind 3-0 at Los Angeles, and then were eliminated when their 2-1 home win wasn’t enough.
However, there have been three MLS aggregate-score series in which teams have lost at home, yet advanced with wins on the road. The Colorado Rapids did it in 2006, when they fell behind Dallas 2-1, but went on to equalize and then advance on penalty kicks. The 2010 San Jose Earthquakes lost 1-0 at home, and then made it up with a 3-1 win at New York. And last season, the Los Angeles Galaxy fell behind top-seeded San Jose 1-0, advanced with a 3-1 win in the second leg, and continued all the way to the MLS Cup championship.
This week the Sounders embraced their chance to join that list.
“If you can’t get up for these games, then you shouldn’t be playing,” designated player Clint Dempsey said. “It’s an opportunity to go down there and try to do something special. If we’re able to get the right result, it will keep us alive. That’s what we plan on doing.”
Both teams have framed the current situation as Portland holding a one-goal lead going into the second half of a 180-minute competition.
But neither club is quite sure how the other will approach that second half.
Will Portland sit back, or push forward for what could be an early knockout punch? Will the Sounders rush to get even, or concentrate on keeping a clean sheet while patiently waiting for their equalizing goal to come?
And if the Sounders do get the first goal, do both sides try to win it in regulation or take their chances in extra time and perhaps eventually with penalty kicks.
“Obviously, we are in a better position, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Portland midfielder Will Johnson said Wednesday. “Both of our seasons are on the line. There’s going to be a lot of intense pressure on both teams. I think there’s still a lot of play for, and we’ve got a good game plan going in to combat any desire to play for a draw. Like I said, we’re going to play for a win.”
The Sounders have no choice but to do the same.
“We can’t just go in there and sit back and say, ‘Oh, we hope they don’t score one and we get one,’” midfielder Brad Evans said. “We’re going to have to impose our game on them from minute one. And I think that we’ve found success in that his year: coming out hot and pressing the game and trying to get a goal early. And I think we’ve been a better team in that style of play.”