Will Thursday be the end of an era in Seattle? It just might be if the Sounders can't overturn a 2-1 deficit in Portland and keep Sigi Schmid from the chopping block.
The highly anticipated Western Conference semifinal turned for the Timbers early on in the first leg through Ryan Johnson and a second half tally by Darlington Nagbe put the visitors clear in front. Only a stoppage time strike by Osvaldo Alonso kept the Sounders in striking distance heading into the second leg.
Now the tie heads to Portland, where the Timbers Army will surely be ready for their first ever MLS playoff match. If matches between the Timbers and Sounders weren't big enough, now the reality that one team's season will come to an end on Thursday and another will advance to the Western Conference final is also in the mix. The atmosphere will be electric and Schmid can only hope that JELD-WEN Field turns silent at the final whistle because if the Timbers are celebrating, he could be done in the Emerald City.
1. How much is home field worth? The Timbers' were MLS's best home team during the regular season, losing just once in 17 matches, including a 1-0 win over the Sounders' in their only meeting at JELD-WEN Field. Chalk that up to the turf, the smaller field or one of the league's best atmospheres, but whatever does it for the Timbers will be there on Thursday and the Timbers are a good bet to keep that home loss number at one.
2. Does Sigi Schmid gamble with Mauro Rosales? At this point in his career, the 32-year-old Rosales is limited, both in range, ability to tackle and fitness, but he is still fantastic with the ball. Whether it's on set pieces, where he's among the best in MLS, or in the run of play, Rosales' passing can unlock the Timbers defense. The question is whether that's worth enough to Schmid that he will take the downgrade defensively. In need of goals, the answer should be yes -- just like it should have been in the first leg -- but it wouldn't be totally out of character for the Seattle manager to go down without using all of his weapons.
3. Can Diego Chara shut down Clint Dempsey again? In the first leg, Dempsey had nowhere to go. The Sounders got him touches, but they were far from goal and he barely had time to turn and face goal before Chara was on top of him. Chara had help too, with Will Johnson there to out-number Dempsey. With so much of the Sounders' attack dependent on Dempsey, another stellar Chara performance could doom Seattle.
4. Who is fit for Seattle? DeAndre Yedlin looks like a good bet to play after missing the first leg through injury, but Obafemi Martins and Zach Scott are still question marks as they battle fitness. The Sounders could do without Scott, but Martins would be a huge boost against a Timbers defense that has struggled with speed before. The Sounders have enough problems going in Thursday, they don't need a gimpy Yedlin or absent Martins to make for more.
5. How much does the smaller field matter? The pitch at JELD-WEN Field was made wider this season so it is only a bit narrower than CenturyLink Field, but it is the shortest playing surface in the league at just 110 yards. The Timbers excelled in the first leg at using the wings to stretch the Sounders' diamond midfield and they got two goals out of it, something that will be tougher in Portland. At the same time, the Timbers won't have as much space to deal with against speedy Seattle forwards. Advantage, who?
Match date/time: Thursday, 11 p.m. ET
Venue: JELD-WEN Field, Portland, OR
TV: NBC Sports Network
Streaming: MLS Live