HOUSTON (SPORTSRADIO 610) – Two teams with MLS Cup aspirations begin a two-match aggregate Monday night in Houston as the Dynamo host Portland in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals.
An Alberth Elis goal in the 94’ minute was all the Dynamo needed to beat Sporting Kansas City in extra time in the Knockout Round of the MLS Cup Playoffs. MLS Player of the Month Tyler Deric, behind a patchwork backline, picked up his sixth shutout of the season.
With the win, the Dynamo are now undefeated in their last seven matches with their last loss coming at San Jose on September 16.
Portland, the top seed in the Western Conference, is the reward for the advancing Dynamo in the semifinals. The Timbers claimed the one seed with a 2-1 victory over Vancouver on MLS’ decision day, and enjoyed a bye during the Knockout Round.
The Timbers’ 15 wins on the season matches their club record that was previously set in 2015. Ironically for the Timbers, their 15-11-8, 53 points record is the same exact record they had in 2015 when they claimed their only MLS Cup in club history.
Diego Valeri, on the short list of MVP candidates, is the key figure for a very talented club. Valeri has 21 goals on the season and 11 assists to boot. Earlier this season Valeri scored a goal in nine consecutive matches, which is an MLS record.
In addition to Valeri, the Timbers feature several other players with an immense amount of quality. Darlington Nagbe with a 92 percent pass completion percentage that leads the MLS. Sebastian Blanco has chipped in eight goals, and perhaps the return of Fanendo Adi who has 10 goals on the season in only 22 matches, but has missed the previous 10 games with a hamstring injury.
Jeff Attinella is the probable starter in goal for the Timbers as he has seized the opportunity and has won over the starting job in Portland. Attinella, filling in for Jake Gleeson, has started the last nine matches, and has four shutouts in that span.
Portland will be rested for the two-match aggregate that starts Monday in Houston and then finishes Sunday in Portland. The Dynamo will look to reenergize with just three days between the first match against Portland and the Knockout Round win against Sporting Kansas City.
Yellow card accumulation may also be a concern for the Dynamo. With the MLS Playoff card accumulation rule, any player that accumulate two yellow cards before the MLS Cup Final will be suspended for the following match. A deserving built in advantage for a team with a bye, as the count for those teams begins a match later than those who participated in the Knockout Round. Five Dynamo players received a yellow card from referee Mark Geiger in their match against Sporting Kansas City, which means if Philippe Senderos, Ricardo Clark, Aldofo Machado, Romell Quioto or Alberth Elis receives a yellow on Monday then they will be suspended for Sunday’s match.
Monday’s match will be the third time Houston and Portland meet this season. Early in the year, the Dynamo lost at Portland 4-2 in their first road match of the season. The Dynamo led 2-1 at the half, but Portland would score three times in the second half on their way to three points. The rematch in Houston came on July 29 when Juan David Cabezas equalized in the 81’ minute, his only goal of the year coming off a set piece from Memo Rodriguez. Valeri scored three goals in those two matches.
Injuries will be a storyline heading into Monday’s match as well. Already without A.J. DeLaGarza, due to a torn ACL suffered on decision day, Leonardo was injured in the match against Sporting Kansas City and will miss Monday’s match as well.. Alex also was subbed off for in extra time for the Dynamo after injuring his ankle, but is expected to be available. For Portland, they hope to get Adi back, who is their second leading goal scorer. He’s questionable with a hamstring injury and missed the last 10 matches of the regular season.
Listen to Monday’s match beginning with an 8 p.m. prematch show on CBS Sports Radio 650 am, 95.7 HD3 and the radio.com app.