From The Inside: An Emerald City Insider's Look into the Sounders
Editor's Note: With the Portland Timbers heading north to take on the Seattle Sounders in continuation of a decades-long soccer rivalry, we decided to reach out to get some insight from inside the enemy camp. Steve Clare is the Editor of prostamerika.com, a website based in Seattle and devoted to Northwest soccer. A witness to many Portland-Seattle battles, Clare goes inside the Sounders side and looks for what the Timbers will need to unlock a win. Read, too, his earlier piece about the Cascadian rivalry and where it can go from here.
Portland Timbers. Seattle Sounders. Cascadia Cup. Thirty-five years of rivalry.
This result matters to the hardcore fan. There are MLS points to be won and a national audience to see it. The stakes just got much higher.
Those three points however can only be won by the eleven players out on the pitch. Both clubs have fantastic fan support, not just by the standards of MLS, but by any measuring stick.
However the winning goal, the key save, the defender playing the other guy onside, the saving tackle—basically the stuff that will make the headlines—will come from one individual out of a small group of 36. That's as it should be.
There’s been loads of insight into Portland’s weapons, but let’s take an inside look into what they’ll have to overcome in Seattle.
The Seattle Sounders have had to deal with a hurricane blowing through their playing resources. Blaise Nkufo departed on the eve of the season, removing not just a forward, but a Designated Player and his years of footballing experience; experience which the Sounders outfield largely lacked after veterans Tyrone Marshall and Pete Vagenas left.
The squad is hardly inexperienced but that’s a great deal of soccer knowledge to shed. Kasey Keller has that experience in spades but can only influence so much from the goalkeeper's position.
If that episode had more factors than just ill luck, then what happened to the club next did not. Steve Zakuani and O’Brian White suffered two very different fates, with two broadly similar results; an indefinite period out of the game.
Recent Argentine import Mauro Rosales had impressed and was improving as he began to become increasingly acquainted with MLS. Then a hamstring was pulled in Washington, D.C. and he missed the Columbus trip. He is looking doubtful for the derby according to Sigi Schmid earlier in the week.
So Schmid, who had been delivered a deep squad in the off season by General Manager Adrian Hanauer and Technical Director Chris Henderson, watched helplessly as it was stripped away. He has had to dig deep and do it early.
Ironically, the man who could save him on Saturday is a native Oregonian, Nate Jaqua. The Eugene striker has shown touches of approaching his excellent 2009 form after a series of injuries. Schmid needs him now more than ever. Without Zakuani's inspirational runs down the left wing, chances will be fewer. They need forwards to convert those that come from other sources. Given Steve's preference for crosses at ground level, they are also likely to be higher.
To Jaqua's advantage is that Sounders' set piece quality has improved with the arrival of Swede Erik Friberg and the inclusion of left back Tyson Wahl. Their free kicks and corners have not been great as a rule but when the “6 foot and plenty change” Jaqua became injured it mattered less. Now a steady provision of balls fired in aerially and accurately could assist Jaqua to be a difference maker again.
If it is not to be him that partners Fredy Montero up front, then it may be a face fans in Portland know and love already, Roger Levesque. Levesque is quite sincere when he talks with fondness about the Timbers fans. Like many players, he thrives off the stick.
However, Colombian Montero is the danger man. He may well be the most naturally gifted individual who will grace the park on Saturday although, we surely have not seen the full range of gifts possessed by Timbers Designated Player, Diego Chara. The latter has a grand stage on which to unfurl them though, doesn’t he?
Sounders coach Schmid has rotated Hurtado, former Red Bull Jeff Parke and Pat Ianni at centre half. All things being equal, perhaps Hurtado may get the nod although Ianni and Parke started the last match.
Jeff Parke and Kenny Cooper stands to be another interesting one on one with two incredibly tough uncompromising individuals. For all the youth and newness of the game, that clash is a couple of very experienced players in direct competition. That match-up coupled with a Hurtado/Perlaza one would be enticing if all are selected.
If you are looking for flashpoints, watch when any of the Colombians go near each other and see if there is “conversation” as each seeks to gain any advantage for his side!
In front of them stands Osvaldo Alonso, for many Sounders fans the most consistently effective player. When Ossie imposes himself on a game, he can more or less protect the entire back five or on another day mark two opposing defensive midfielders out of the game. To boot, Ossie doesn't have many bad days. I have a sneaking suspicion, not based on any inside info, that the in-form Kalif Alhassan may be seeing plenty of Alonso if he starts looking too dangerous.
If not, he will have Jack Jewsbury to snarl at.
However, it is what lies behind that back four that is truly daunting.
For behind them stands one of American soccer’s true colossi. Kasey Keller pioneered for American players in Europe and created a path that led all the way to the present day to Clint Dempsey, at one of Keller’s former clubs Fulham. Keller raised the image and respect level for American soccer not just in England, but in Spain and Germany too. He is now fluent in all three languages and one day will be an incredible ambassador for our sport and nation.
Keller has been in inspiring form this season. He has had to be. He was instrumental in Sounders best result, their first win—the 2-1 win over Chicago Fire. Two key second half saves may have altered the course of Sounders season just as Jake Gleeson did for Portland in the Open Cup tie with Chivas.
Win these individual battles across the pitch, and Portland may not only achieve their first win, but be well on their way to establishing bragging rights in this deep Cascadian rivalry.