View From The Inside: Will Sounders bring diamonds from Emerald City?
The first Portland v Seattle derby of 2012 finds both clubs riding a wave of uncertainty as Sunday's match approaches (Presented by PGE; 2:00pm PT, ESPN, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940). The visitors have completed six league games without a win for the first time in MLS. This is so very different from the scenario last year when they arrived seven games into a ten match unbeaten streak.
Injuries have played a part as they do for any club, but more troubling for Sigi Schmid has been losses of form to his top players, most notably Mauro Rosales. The Argentinian showed glimpses of returning to form in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas.
The Portland derby represents the middle match of three in eight days culminating in the defense of their Open Cup against San Jose on Tuesday.
Schmid’s squad rotation plans were thrown askew however by Alvaro Fernandez’s red card in stoppage time. The Uruguayan had been rested, presumably for later games, but will now be unavailable for Portland. Alex Caskey may be asked to start again but the sight of Steve Zakuani on the bench will have warmed Seattle hearts.
Schmid tried Rosales in a more central role against SKC. That may have been to combat the specific style they play, or the one Schmid thought they would play. It was far from a failure. Given his poor form on the wing, Schmid may conclude playing Rosales in the middle is the kick start to his recovery.
In a packed center, he played a three man triangle with Brad Evans and Osvaldo Alonso. It was very effective although cynics will say that against Sporting’s second string, players of such caliber should be able to dominate.
My guess would be that Schmid will repeat the dose but Fernandez’s unavailability means this pattern may ask a great deal of the sole winger. Another wrench in the works is the U.S. Open Cup Game. The Open Cup is integral to the psyche of Sounders FC. Schmid may conclude that defeat in San Jose may be more catastrophic than a derby disgrace.
If he does, you can expect to see a very unusual XI in Portland, perhaps even including every Timbers fans’ favorite player, Roger Levesque. The young, quick Cordell Cato may be very high up the reckoning too. He has more pace than trickery and may pose a new set of issues for Portland’s still unsettled back line.
Leo Gonzales and Marc Burch will battle for left back and right back Adam Johansson may return for Sunday. He has been on the brink of recovery and Zach Scott leaves little energy on the pitch. He may be frankly exhausted.
For the first time in a while, Schmid may have three centre backs available. Given how little research is available on handling Kris Boyd and Danny Mwanga as a team, squad rotation rather than perceived one-on-ones may dictate Schmid’s choice here.
He may decide who he wants for the Cup game, select Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (who missed the SKC game through suspension) and rest Parke or Ianni to leave them fresh for Tuesday.
Schmid is known for adapting his tactics according to his personnel not the other way around so it can be assumed that he will select the side, and shoehorn his tactics around them, rather than shoehorn them into favorite roles and formations.
These next two games are very important for the club. Elimination from the Open Cup will deliver a huge blow for a fan base who have taken that tournament to heart.
Defeat to the Timbers will not eliminate them from anything, but it may give Portland fans the encouragement they need to remind Seattle fans how much they are hurting after being on the wrong end of recent tauntings.