How will Sounders slow Portland's potent attack? It all starts with Osvaldo Alonso

Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer was giving an emotional postgame talk to players in an otherwise-stone-silent locker room last Sunday on why they’d pulled out a last-second, bye-clinching win over San Jose when a lone voice interrupted him.

Few players dare interrupt any coach mid-sentence, but Alonso’s opinion matters on a squad where he’s toiled a decade alongside Schmetzer, who quickly agreed with the captain’s assessment.

The Timbers outplayed the Sounders all three times they met this season — winning twice — and defensive midfielders Alonso and Gustav Svensson slowing down Argentine playmaker Diego Valeri will be a must in Sunday’s opening-road leg of the Western Conference semifinal.

As Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley reminded everyone in last year’s MLS Cup final, no matter how many goal-scorers your lineup has, soccer games are won and lost in the middle of the field.

Perhaps, but with Timbers defender Larrys Mabiala out on red-card suspension, Schmetzer might be tempted to push forward for a crucial away goal — the first aggregate score tiebreaker — and trust Alonso and Svensson to thwart any counterattacks.

That means — especially on the defensive side — he’ll need Alonso once again turning back the clock again and relying on “his ability to dictate the tempo part of our game and possession from that area of the field.

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