Defending champs Seattle Sounders start playoffs without Clint Dempsey

Columbus Crew forward Adam Jahn (12) and goalkeeper Zack Steffen (23) celebrates the game-winning goal after the shootout of an MLS playoff soccer game against Atlanta United, in Atlanta, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. The Columbus Crew won in a 3-1 shootout. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)

TUKWILA, Wash. (AP) - For the second straight season, the Seattle Sounders will begin the MLS Cup playoffs with Clint Dempsey as a spectator.

Unlike last year's championship run by the Sounders, this absence by Dempsey will last only one game.

Dempsey was suspended for Sunday's first-leg of the Western Conference semifinals against Cascadia rival Vancouver after picking up a red card in the regular-season finale against Colorado. Dempsey was sent off early in the first half of Seattle's 3-0 victory last week that clinched the No. 2 seed in the West for the defending champs.

"We are no longer the underdog," Seattle midfielder Cristian Roldan said. "We've accepted that. We've felt that way throughout the season because of MLS Cup and being champions. It's a big deal and teams are gunning for you."

The other semifinal matchup in the West features No. 1 seed Portland facing Houston. In the East, Supporters' Shield winners Toronto FC will face the New York Red Bulls, while No. 2 seed New York City FC will take on Columbus. Both the conference semifinals and finals are decided by two-game aggregate scoring.

The loss of Dempsey for the first-leg against the Whitecaps is amplified for Seattle because of the uncertainty surrounding forward Jordan Morris, who has been out since early September with a hamstring injury. Morris has been doing work on the side, but has yet to resume full training.

Vancouver did have success at home this season against Seattle, winning in April and taking a 1-1 draw in August. But the Whitecaps were routed 3-0 in Seattle in late September. Vancouver lost three of its final five regular-season matches prior to Wednesday's 5-0 rout of San Jose in the knockout round.



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