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Timbers-Sounders Preview

By JEFF MEZYDLO

STATS Senior Writer

(AP) -- After finishing with the Western Conference's best record, the Portland Timbers are eager to begin their first trip to the MLS playoffs.

Hoping to continue their current surge, the Timbers try for their first road win over the Cascadia Cup rival Seattle Sounders on Saturday night in the first leg of this two-match, aggregate-goal semifinal series.

Headed to the playoffs in the club's third year of existence, Portland concluded the regular season on a 5-0-3 stretch to finish 14-5-15 and edge Real Salt Lake by a point for first place in the West.

"This group is very, very hungry," coach Caleb Porter told the MLS official website. "And I think they smell a little bit of blood in the water with the playoffs. And I like our chances. Obviously, it's not going to be easy, the teams we're going to have to match up against are very good teams.

"We want to be in form, flying, confident and going into the playoffs ready to make a run at it and win it and not just being happy being in it."

The Timbers posted shutouts in their final three matches and outscored their last eight opponents 15-3 since dropping consecutive road contests against Seattle and RSL to end August. Diego Valeri scored twice and added an assist during a 5-0 rout of Chivas USA last Saturday.

"You always want to be playing your best football at the right time, and we're fortunate it's working out that way," Porter said.

Though Portland beat the Sounders 1-0 at home Oct. 13, it's 0-2-2 all-time at Seattle after a 1-0 loss Aug. 25 and 1-1 draw March 16. The Timbers have been outscored 6-2 in those four matches at Seattle.

Eddie Johnson scored both goals against Portland this season and followed up Brad Evans' tally during the Sounders' 2-0 home victory over Colorado in Wednesday's knockout round. The win snapped an 0-4-3 stretch that followed Seattle's season-high five-match winning streak.

"I think right now it's mind over matter and you just have to go out and play - that's just the way it is," coach Sigi Schmid told the Sounders' official website.

"I thought we played well. It's not where we were hanging on and scrapping to get by. From that standpoint, it means a little more than just a win."

Seattle has reached the playoffs in each of its five MLS seasons, and lost in the conference finals to Los Angeles last year. If the Sounders are to get that far again they'll need to overcome the one-game suspension of goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who was red-carded for handling the ball outside the penalty area Wednesday.

Former U.S. national team and English Premier League star Marcus Hahnemann will make his fifth start of the season. He's allowed four goals while splitting his first four starts this year, including the loss at Portland.

Valeri leads the Timbers with 10 goals in MLS play but has none in two career matches against the Sounders.

Portland and Seattle each totaled seven points to finish behind first-place Vancouver for the Cascadia Cup, which is awarded for the best regular-season record in head-to-head competition between the league's three Pacific Northwest clubs.

The second leg of this series is Thursday night in Portland.

Updated November 1, 2013

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