SEATTLE — Coming away with a one-goal victory in the away leg of a two-game playoff would be enough to give any team confidence heading into the home half of the series.
For the Portland Timbers, that’s especially true after their 2-1 victory Saturday against the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals. The second leg will be played Thursday on Portland’s turf at JELD-WEN Field (11 pm ET, NBCSN, TSN2 in Canada), a place they’ve been nearly impossible to beat, producing a league-best 11-1-5 record.
It’s a place head coach Caleb Porter called “a fortress.”
“We’re one step away,” Porter said Saturday after the Timbers' win. “We obviously have to have a good performance next game Thursday at home. But they have to come on our home field and get a piece of us in order to get through, and I like our chances. Obviously, we have to play as well as we did in this game. We have to be as hungry, we have to fight as hard, we have to be as organized.”
The numbers tell a very dire story for Seattle, who must win to advance. Portland have not allowed a home goal since Aug. 21, which includes five straight clean sheets and a 450-minute goalless streak. The club’s only home loss came in their second regular-season game March 9 against the Montreal Impact. Their 11 home shutouts lead the league.
“It’s a huge advantage coming back home because as you can see we’re very strong at home,” said goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, who finished the regular season with a league-best 14 clean sheets. That kind of ace in the hole may have led Portland to play a more defensive strategy than normal in Seattle. The Sounders dominated possession and out-shot the Timbers 20-10.
“If you go into the game on the road, you want to win if you can, you hope even you maybe get a draw,” Porter said. “So again that puts us in the driver’s seat coming back home. Now we’re at home and we’re in a great position. If we win the game at home then we’re through, simple.”
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There also appears to be little concern on Porter’s part for the way Seattle played. In their last home match against the Sounders, a 1-0 Portland victory on Oct. 13, the Sounders were held to three shots on goal.
“We can play better, and I know we will play better at home,” Porter said. “… You’d be naïve to think that we’re just going to have the ball and be up the field in the front half for 90 minutes, on the road in front of [38,000] fans playing a team that has been in the playoffs the last five years.
"I think for this team to come in here and get a result says a lot about how far we’ve come, it says a lot about this team, it says a lot about how seasoned we are even though we haven’t been together for that long.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.