Much at stake in Timbers-Dynamo matchup (Nov 05, 2017)
A spot in MLS' final four will be on the line when the Portland Timbers and the Houston Dynamo square off on Sunday in a winner-take-all Western Conference semifinal match at Providence Park in Portland, Ore.
Sunday's match will be the second of a two-leg, cumulative goal playoff. But since the first match in Houston on Monday ended up as a scoreless draw, this one is for all the marbles and a spot in the conference finals.
The Sounders beat Vancouver 2-0 on Thursday after a scoreless tie in the first leg of that series to earn a chance at a repeat of the title they won last season. A Portland win means it will start the conference finals at home while a Houston victory would put them on the road to start the Western Conference championship.
Both teams will be without huge pieces of their lineup, both from injuries and suspension.
Timbers coach Caleb Porter said Wednesday that midfielder Diego Chara will miss Sunday's match and the status of five other injured players -- defender Larry Mabiala, midfielders Darlington Nagbe, David Guzman and Sebastian Blanco and forward Fanendo Adi -- is yet to be determined.
Chara, Nagbe and Mabiala all left Monday's match due to injury. Nagbe and Mabiala could potentially return on Sunday, but Chara will miss extended time with a broken fifth metatarsal, which he suffered on a bumpy, rundown field in Houston. He will likely miss the remainder of the year.
"I don't want to pile it on Houston, but I think it had something to do with the field; it was a broken foot based on him planting on the field," Porter said. "At the end of the day it's too bad, it's unfortunate, but it's irrelevant to talk about the past for me. I'm on to the future. Disappointing obviously, Chara being out, he's a key player for us, but we'll move on."
Guzman, Blanco and Adi didn't dress for the first leg. Blanco was a game-time decision after he suffered burns on his foot after he spilled boiling water on himself. Guzman missed the match with a knee injury and Adi has been out since August due to a hamstring strain.
"We train as a team every day," Timbers defender Alvas Powell said. "Whether guys are out or not, everybody plays a part. It won't be any different if other guys have to step up."
Houston will be without its last line of defense. Goalkeeper Tyler Deric was suspended after he was charged with misdemeanor assault in connection with an alleged domestic incident on Tuesday morning.
Both MLS and the Houston Police Department are continuing their investigations into the allegations and the league will remain in close communication with Dynamo, local law enforcement, and the MLS Players Union during the investigation.
The 29-year-old allowed just one goal in October as the Dynamo went 2-0-1 to secure their first playoff berth since 2013.
Veteran Joe Willis will take Deric's place in goal and make his first MLS Cup playoff appearance since 2012. Willis has made regular appearances for the Dynamo, including eight starts in regular-season play this season.
Monday's draw extended Houston's shutout streak to 447 consecutive minutes played without conceding a goal, but all that is in jeopardy now that Deric will not play. The Dynamo is also without defender A.J. DeLaGarza, who underwent successful knee surgery on Wednesday while the status of fellow defender Leonardo (who missed Monday's first leg) is still in question.
Sunday's game can't end with another scoreless result.
Houston coach Wilmer Cabrera is aware that his team has only scored one goal in 210 minutes of playoff action (in an overtime win over Sporting KC and the draw versus Portland on Monday), but understands that the risks and rewards are greater in the postseason.
"The risk that is taken is minimal and nobody commits errors," Cabrera said. "We need to understand that in the playoffs one goal is enough -- one goal makes the difference between classifying (for the next round) or being on vacation."
Houston won just once on the road in the regular season while Portland lost only twice on its home pitch. That makes the obstacle even bigger for the Dynamo.
"This is now a do-or-die game and we have to leave it all on the field," Dynamo forward Alberth Elis said. "This could very well be our last game, so we have to play for a victory or a positive result that will take us to the (Western Conference) finals."