When the Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City kick off their Western Conference Championship series at Providence Park on Sunday (7:30 pm ET | FS1, TSN, TVAS), neither side expects the action on the field to mirror what transpired in their regular season series.
The two teams met twice earlier this year, first settling for a scoreless draw in Portland on June 9. Then on Aug. 18, SKC had a convincing 3-0 home win on Aug. 18 to send what was then a struggling Timbers side to a third straight defeat in eight days.
Now Kansas City boss Peter Vermes is staring down what looks like a different opponent in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs.
“I think they’re a better team,” Vermes told Kansas City’s Sports Radio 810 WHB. “It’s your objective as a coach to peak at the end, and I think they’re doing that.”
Portland haven’t lost at home since August, and their road form in the playoffs has been impressive: first a Knockout Round win over FC Dallas in Frisco, then three goals and a penalty shootout triumph at CenturyLink Field against the No. 2 seed Seattle Sounders.
“I think they have a lot of weapons going forward,” added Vermes. “They’re a tough team to play against.”
Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese also envisions a different game plan than what he saw in the regular season from his former MetroStars teammate.
“He’s a detail-oriented type of coach, and we expect them to be very good,” said Savarese in an interview on Timbers in 30. “But I think it’s going to be a completely different match, each match that we play against them.”
SKC scored four times in the home leg of their Western Conference Semifinal against Real Salt Lake, taking the series 5-3 on aggregate. Though there were some nervy defensive moments in the second half, Vermes says he intends to maintain an attacking style if it means putting the series out of reach at Children’s Mercy Park.
“[The fans] come to watch and see if we can run roughshod over another team,” Vermes said. “We don’t always do it, but that’s what we’re going to try and do all the time. We’re going to try and play our game, and we’re going to try and do what we do better than what the other team does. Simple as that.”
Timbers defender Liam Ridgewell was an unused sub in both games against SKC this season, but the 34-year-old center back has played every minute of Portland’s playoff run. And he isn’t bothered that he hasn't personally faced this year's SKC squad before.
“It’s a knockout. It’s a cup competition,” Ridgewell said on the Talk Timbers podcast. “You want to go and win every single game.
“It doesn’t make a difference who we play in the next round. It doesn’t make a difference who we play in MLS Cup. You’ve got to go and beat everybody that’s in it.”