SEATTLE -- When Portland and Vancouver joined neighboring Seattle in Major League Soccer in 2011, the rivalry tucked away in the Pacific Northwest was deemed the greatest advertisement for the league.
The only thing that could amplify the rivalry would be a playoff meeting between two of the Cascadia squads.
Wish granted. Seattle and Portland will get the center stage when they meet in the Western Conference semifinals starting Saturday night. It's the opener of the two-leg, aggregate-score semifinal with the return game next Thursday night in Portland.
"I do think it's great for the league to have a Sounders-Timbers matchup," Portland coach Caleb Porter said. "I do hope it will be an epic series, one that people will be talking about."
The rivals have faced each other in the postseason three previous times, once in the NASL in 1975 and twice when the franchises were competing in the United Soccer Leagues in 2004 and '05. There have also been numerous meetings in U.S. Open Cup tournaments and memorable league matches, but nothing yet matching the stakes of the next 180 minutes between the two teams.
Seattle's win over Colorado in the play-in game on Wednesday night was its first in seven games, a span that included a 1-0 loss in Portland. For the second straight match, Seattle used a diamond formation against the Rapids that appeared to accentuate the skills of midfielder Clint Dempsey and free space for forward Eddie Johnson. The formation change was successful against Los Angeles in the season finale and again against Colorado.
And just as Seattle is getting comfortable with a lineup, it's potentially facing changes. The Sounders already know they'll be without goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who received a red card late in the win over Colorado. There is also concern about defender DeAndre Yedlin, who had to be subbed out against Colorado due to an ankle injury.
With Gspurning out, Marcus Hahnemann will get the start in the opener against the Timbers. If there is a benefit for the Sounders, Hahnemann got significant playing time recently, including a start in goal against the Timbers on Oct. 13.
"I feel very confident, I always have, that we have two of the better goalkeepers in the league, so we don't lose anything, we don't gain anything," Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. "Hahnemann's kicking is a little better than Michael's, so he might try to score a goal off of a goal kick or something, but that's about it."
Portland comes in having closed the season by going unbeaten in eight straight games with five wins during the stretch. The strong close to the season vaulted the Timbers into the top spot in the Western Conference and put Portland in the position of having the advantage of playing the second-leg of the series at home. Porter downplayed the fact that this is Portland's first postseason appearance, noting that a number of his key players have playoff experience either with other MLS teams or playing in similar knockout tournaments in other parts of the world.
"The format is different with the two-leg series that does play into it. You can't just be locked on to the one game and understand how to approach the two together," Porter said. "... Collectively, we haven't been in this position but we have a lot of seasoned guys that have."
Aesthetically there will be one drawback to Saturday night's tilt. Because the Seattle Seahawks play at home on Sunday, football lines will be painted on the field for Saturday's game. It'll be one of the few times there's been any sign of football sharing the playing surface at CenturyLink Field, but with just 18 hours between kickoffs of the two games it was impossible to avoid having both sets of lines on the field.