It’s a match with the Cascadia Cup in the balance: Portland Timbers host Seattle Sounders FC at what is sure to be a packed and rocking JELD-WEN Field on Saturday (12:30pm PT, NBC, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940, presented by adidas). For the Timbers, in a season that has had its share of difficulties; the match is a great opportunity to add some joy to the proceedings. For Seattle, who have been flying high since the last time they came to Stumptown, the match presents another step on their push for the Supporters’ Shield.
But for all the build up and hype around Saturday's match, two of the most essential players on the pitch weren't even on the field the last time these two teams tangled in June. Acquired via trade from Montreal midseason, Donovan Ricketts has been busy establishing himself with his new defenders and surroundings in Portland. Despite an unfortunate result last week on the road in Colorado, Ricketts picked up his first shutout with the Timbers in Portland’s last home game also against the Rapids.
WATCH: Ricketts with amazing double-save
A Jamaican international, Ricketts has impressive tools of height, reach, and vision. Timbers soccer analyst Robbie Earle, who has known Ricketts since they were teammates on the Jamaican national team that went to the World Cup in 1998, said, “I remember him being that if you had a checklist of what you wanted a ‘keeper to be in terms of size, presence, shot-stopping, good coordination and footwork, it would almost be your whole checklist in terms of what he brings to the table.”
But come this weekend, Seattle will also be fielding a goalkeeper who will be in his first Portland-Seattle Cascadia experience in Michael Gspurning. How these two perform in the wild surroundings of JELD-WEN Field brings us to the KeyBank Match-up.
A native of Austria, Gspurning came to Seattle in the offseason to takeover the position after the retirement of American goalkeeping legend Kasey Keller. Beginning the year as the starter, Gspurning suffered a hip injury that kept him on the shelf for over two months. In that interim, Seattle struggled with consistency. In June, it was Andrew Weber who started in Seattle's 2-1 loss to the Timbers.
After Gspurning’s return, however, Seattle has been on a run of form. With the Timbers, buzzing with the energy of the home crowd, he’ll need to be on the lookout for the speedy Portland wingers in Sal Zizzo and Franck Songo’o. Since switching to a 4-3-3, Portland has greatly increased the number of open play crosses. That constant push into the attacking third and look to create scoring chances will force Gsuprning and his defense to stay honest.
WATCH: Gspurning with reaction save against Agudelo
On the other side of the pitch, the Timbers defense will be well aware of the Sounders attack in Fredy Montero and Eddie Johnson. Much has been made by their rejuvenated creativity this season--they do have 24 goals combined between the two of them. Having Bundesliga veteran Christian Tiffert and back-from-injury Steve Zakuani in the midfield helping provide service and pace hasn’t hurt either.
Ricketts will need clear communication with marshalling his entire backline and captain Jack Jewsbury—often set closer to the back as a bulwark in more of a holding midfield position—will be busy.
But as Robbie Earle pointed out, Ricketts has all the tools to put together a signature performance. He helped gut out the win against Colorado and held steady to beat Vancouver 2-1 at home in August as well.
Make no doubt, Seattle will come hard and balls will be pinging across the field on both ends. Which goalkeeper will be able to stand tall throughout and help hold his team together could very well be the one that ends up helping lift the much sought after Cascadia Cup.