Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers: Preview and TV schedule

USA TODAY Sports

It's Sounders vs. Timbers in a way we've never seen it before -- in the playoffs.

Five years ago, neither team existed. Three years ago, Cascadia was a one-man band.

Now, the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers are set to square off in the most anticipated, and possibly hotly contested, MLS playoff tie in the league's history. It all came together so quickly and yet it feels like decades in the making.

Amazingly, it is Portland who enters as the favorites in their first postseason appearance. They are the Western Conference's top seed and Seattle's play-in match win was their first victory since September 13. Caleb Porter has turned the Timbers around, all while Sigi Schmid deals with questions about his job security in Seattle as the tables have turned in Cascadia.

The pressure is really on Seattle in the first leg, too, because they almost have to win if they want to advance. The Timbers the best home team in MLS this season and the Sounders cannot afford to put themselves in a position where they need anything more than a draw in the second leg. That means winning on Saturday in front of nearly 40,000 of their adoring fans and putting doubt in the mind of a Timbers team that has never been to the playoffs before.

Five questions

1. Can Portland stretch Seattle's midfield? The Sounders have been playing with a midfield diamond, which while effective, can present some problems for them on the flanks. Rodney Wallace in particular can cause Seattle fits, while Michael Harrington could be flipped to right back, where his pace could pull Adam Moffat out wide to undo the diamond. If Seattle can keep their diamond shape, they could put Portland on their heels, but if it gets stretched then they are in deep trouble.

2. How good is Clint Dempsey? After a rough two months with the Sounders, Dempsey played his best match in rave green on Wednesday night when Seattle beat Colorado to advance to the conference semifinals. But while Dempsey was much better, he still wasn't at his best. The Sounders may need him to be if they want to take down the Timbers and Portland should have him outnumbered two-to-one in the center, making things even tougher on the United States star.

3. Will Caleb Porter go for the win? The blueprint for two-legged success is win at home and get a draw away, but Porter likes his teams to be proactive and attack. He hasn't managed a two-legged playoff, or in the playoffs at all for that matter, though, so will he go at the Sounders like his Timbers side has all year or be more conservative, look for any result and try to win the tie at home?

4. Who's fit for Seattle? DeAndre Yedlin is battling injury after going off at halftime on Wednesday and Obafemi Martins has been out for nearly a month with a bad groin. Both are in contention to play, although it looks unlikely either will start, but especially in Martins' case, even being available on the bench could be huge for the Sounders. Unfortunately for Seattle, there's nothing they can do but cross their fingers and hope that the two heal quickly.

5. Can the Sounders take advantage of set pieces? The Timbers have been very good in defense, but much of that is because they do a great job cutting out attacks early and their possession takes pressure off the back line. All of that comes apart when they commit fouls and give away free kicks, though. Diego Chara committed the third most fouls in MLS this season and Pa Modou Kah is a physical player who could get whistled for a crucial foul that gives Seattle a dangerous set piece. If they do, the Sounders have to capitalize. That might mean giving Mauro Rosales a start because of his excellent dead ball abilities, or maybe starting him regardless is a good idea considering what he gives the attack in a match Seattle has to win at home.

Match date/time: Saturday, 10 p.m. ET

Venue: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA

TV: NBC Sports Network

Streaming: MLS Live

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