By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
While the Seattle Sounders prepare to play for its playoff life on Thursday, Lamar Neagle can only sit and hope that his season isn’t already over.
Neagle was issued his second yellow card in as many postseason games Saturday, when the Sounders lost to the Portland Timbers, 2-1, at CenturyLink Field. That makes him ineligible for the second and final leg, which kicks off at 8:23 p.m. Thursday in Portland.
“These are games you definitely want to play in, so it’s very disappointing on my part,” he said. “I didn’t really think it was a yellow card at all, but this kind of stuff happens when you pick up a stupid yellow card in the first game.”
Neagle was shown his first caution in the 78th minute of Seattle’s knockout round win over Colorado on Wednesday. The second came in the 47th minute of the Portland opener.
Two postseason yellows result in a one-game suspension. And the Sounders’ season is down to one game, unless they make up the two goals needed to win the series outright, or the one goal that would send the result to added time, and penalty kicks if needed.
Seattle’s challenge would have been doubled except for Osvaldo Alonso’s goal in the final minute of regulation, which seemed to greatly increase the Sounders’ belief that they can make up the difference in Oregon.
“Definitely a lift from Ozzie,” Neagle said. “We definitely came close to a couple of more. We know that we can play against this team, especially down there. So we’re kind of up for the game on Thursday. But for me it’s a little different. … You definitely don’t want that to be your last game.”
Neagle, who was born in Tacoma and raised in Federal Way, is tied for second on the team with a career-high eight goals this season. He also was named Sounders humanitarian of the year.
Even without him, Seattle could be about as close to full strength on Thursday as it has been all season.
No. 1 goalkeeper Michael Gspurning is eligible again after missing the opener due to red-card suspension. Coach Sigi Schmid seemed confident that right back DeAndre Yedlin will return from an ankle sprain suffered in the Colorado match. Schmid also volunteered that designated player Obafemi Martins — who matches Neagle with eight goals — could return after missing four straight games with a groin injury.
Schmid also thought after playing three games in seven days last week, his entire team would benefit from the five-day break – especially players who have been building fitness or playing through pain, such as Clint Dempsey, Leo Gonzalez and goals leader Eddie Johnson.
“(Portland’s strategy was to) play very direct and just try to spring counters and try to take advantage of their fresh legs over ours,” Schmid said Saturday. “I think at certain times in the game and on the field we looked a little more fatigued, obviously, because it was our third game. Like I said to the guys just now, when we go to Portland we’re going to be sharp, we’re going to be rested, and we’re not going to have heavy legs.”
While the Sounders talked optimistically about the opportunity to make up ground on the road, the Timbers considered their first mission accomplished, as the road win means they will advance to the Western Conference finals with a win or draw at home.
“If you go into the game on the road, you want to win if you can; you hope even maybe to get a draw,” Portland coach Caleb Porter said. “So again, that puts us in the driver’s seat coming back at home … and we’re in a great position. And if we win the game at home, then we’re through. Simple.”