Western Conference playoffs come to KCK on Thursday night

The Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs continue Thursday when top-seeded Sporting Kansas City plays host to the No. 5 seed Portland Timbers in the decisive second leg of the Western Conference Championship at world-class Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

The match will kick off at 8:30 p.m., airing live nationally on ESPN and ESPN Deportes and available via the WatchESPN app. Sports Radio 810 WHB (English) and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM (Spanish) will broadcast the game locally, with 810 WHB carrying five hours of live coverage starting at 7 p.m.

A limited number of tickets for Thursday’s showdown remain available at SeatGeek.com as Sporting KC aims to capture its fourth conference crown, having previously done so in 2000, 2004 and 2013.

All fans in attendance may download the Human Video Board app from the App Store or Google Play for a special pregame light show inside the stadium.

The Western Conference Championship opened Sunday with a 0-0 first-leg draw at Providence Park in Portland.

Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia made six saves to record his sixth shutout in eight MLS appearances against the Timbers, who came closest to scoring in the early stages when Jorge Villafana’s low drive caromed off the post.

Another significant moment occurred in the 70th minute when Portland thought they had taken the lead, but David Guzman’s header was disallowed for offside.

The visitors had a pair of late chances themselves, but Johnny Russell’s strike blazed high and Daniel Salloi’s close-range effort was blocked through traffic.

Sunday’s result leaves everything to play for in the return trip to Kansas City.

A win for either side would result in an aggregate victory, a conference title and an away match against either Atlanta United FC or the New York Red Bulls in MLS Cup 2018 on Saturday, Dec. 8.

A score-draw of any kind after 90 minutes (1-1, 2-2, 3-3,) would see Portland advance on the road goals tiebreaker, while another 0-0 tie would force two 15-minute periods of extra time in which the away goals rule no longer applies. If the clubs remain deadlocked after 120 minutes, a penalty shootout will decide the Western Conference champion.

Sporting KC will have reason for confidence entering the second leg at Children’s Mercy Park.

Manager Peter Vermes’ men are unbeaten in eight matches since Sept. 30 and own a 10-2-4 record since the start of August, outscoring opponents 31-13. In their last 12 matches against Portland, Sporting KC are 5-1-6 with a remarkable nine clean sheets, including shutouts in each of their three meetings this season.

The Timbers took a 3-0 defeat in their most recent trek to Kansas City on Aug. 18, with Diego Rubio bagging a first-half brace and Russell adding a late strike.

Led by first-year head coach Giovanni Savarese, the Timbers approach Thursday’s contest with hopes of reaching MLS Cup for the second time in four years.

Portland were crowned league champions in 2015, the same year they defeated Sporting KC in a penalty shootout following a 2-2 Knockout Round draw at Providence Park.

Since falling 3-0 to Sporting KC in August, the Timbers have scored in seven straight away matches-including a 2-1 Knockout Round victory at FC Dallas on Oct. 31 and a 2-1 second-leg loss to Seattle Sounders FC in the conference semifinals on Nov. 8.

Portland are no strangers to road success in the postseason, boasting a 4-2-3 all-time away record in the playoffs, but Sporting KC have been a true force in their heralded home venue. Vermes’ side is 12-2-5 at Children’s Mercy Park this season and have lost just three of their last 48 home games in all competitions since 2016. Kansas City also wields a 15-2-4 home record in playoff matches, with their lone defeats coming in 1997 and 2011.

Both clubs feature multiple players who have hit their best form at the end of the campaign. Portland midfielder Sebastian Blanco has six goals in his last eight appearances, having scored just as many in his first 27 games of 2018.

His Argentine compatriot and teammate Diego Valeri, the 2017 MLS MVP, has created 17 scoring chances during this year’s playoffs, nine more than any other player.

On the opposite sideline, midfielder Felipe Gutierrez has assisted three of Sporting KC’s five goals in the playoffs, forward Daniel Salloi has scored six goals in as many games since Oct. 17, and center back Matt Besler leads all players in the postseason with a combined 9.3 clearances and interceptions per match.

Sporting KC were without forward Diego Rubio in Sunday’s first leg, but the Chilean will now be available for selection after serving a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation.

He leads MLS with five goals as a substitute this season and has scored 10 times overall, contributing to a balanced Sporting KC attack that has set club single-season records for goals, assists and shots.

Three Portland players are listed as questionable ahead of Thursday. Forward Samuel Armenteros is battling back spasms, midfielder Andy Polo is nursing a calf strain and center back Larrys Mabiala was forced off in the 19th minute on Sunday with an ankle injury.

The only notable name on Sporting KC’s injury report is 18-year-old homegrown defender Jaylin Lindsey, who is questionable with a calf ailment.

– Story from Sporting KC

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