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The Timbers look to build a bonfire... and ignite the season

The stats, facts, and players to know ahead of the heated clash against the Seattle Sounders on April 15

It is perhaps the biggest rivalry in Major League Soccer. Two historic clubs in American soccer, the Pacific Northwest has been host to this heated derby since before the creation of the league in 1995, going back to 1975.

47 years later, the Portland Timbers host the Seattle Sounders for the 117th all-time matchup between the two clubs since the rivalry began.

The Facts

When the Cascadia Derby joined the big league in 2011, North America was introduced to its most organic yet bitter rivalry to date. In 34 regular-season MLS matches, the Timbers have the upper hand with 16 wins, 15 losses, and 7 draws—and have the opportunity to win the fourth straight game against their rivals, something neither team has ever done.

Of those 13 Timbers wins, eight came at home, with the Timbers Army and North End showing their support. This weekend, it's the first of three matches between the two clubs in 2023, and the only one with home field advantage.

The Form

Following a 1-0 loss at BC Place last Saturday, Portland failed to register points in the first Cascadia Cup match of the season against the Vancouver Whitecaps. With only one win under their belt so far (the season opener against Sporting Kansas City), the Timbers are nearing the quarter-way mark and need points.

Saturday's match presents a challenge: the Sounders are second in MLS in fewest goals allowed and the Timbers will need to break one of the most effective defenses in MLS in 2023. It will be the biggest test of the Timbers' offense so far. Over the first seven games, no Portland player has scored more than once, but it is only a matter of time before someone nets their second of the season.

As for the visitors, they're flying high. Currently ranked second in the Supporter's Shield standings and atop the Western Conference, Seattle seems to be clicking. Their offense, led by Golden Boot leader Jordan Morris (8 goals in 7 games), has produced 15 goals since their season started, tied for first in the league.

In a battle for first place in the West last Saturday, the Sounders comfortably handed St. Louis City a 3-0 defeat at Lumen Field. Seattle's only trip-up so far was against league leaders FC Cincinnati back on Matchday 3. Their possession-based style—they keep the ball 53% of the match on average, putting them third in the league in this stat—has allowed them to get creative in open play, resulting in 13 goals.

The Antagonists and Protagonists

Forwards Jordan Morris and Raul Ruidiaz are constant threats, and midfielders Nicolas Lodeiro and João Paulo are the puppeteers that direct their entire play. Head coach Brian Schmetzer's 4-2-3-1 formation has been deadly, accounting for three of five wins in 2023. Goalkeeper Stefan Frei has cemented himself as a rock in goal for the Sounders. His four clean sheets in 630 minutes played puts him third in the league.

Although not yet running at full steam, Portland has its fair share of firepower. Franck Boli has shown that he can score, netting his first goal of the season six minutes into his MLS career. Star signing Evander displays Brazilian magic when healthy and on the pitch. The impressive form of goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic (who earned Team of the Matchday honors this week) and centerback Zac McGraw will provide assurance in the back for Portland facing some of the hottest firepower in MLS.

One veteran that fully understands the significance of this match is Timbers captain Diego Chara who has played all 34 MLS regular season matches against the Sounders in green and gold. His leadership and capacity to inspire the current available squad, one who consists of many young players with variable experience, may play a big factor in the level of play and passion seen on Saturday.

The Stakes

The standings seem to matter less in big rivalry games, and for the Timbers this is a massive opportunity to get back on track.

As the Cascadia rivalry has evolved over the decades, both the players and the fans have played a significant role in the outcome. During Timbers games at Providence Park, the Timbers Army sets the mood by singing towards the pitch, and sometimes towards sections 222 and 223. Seattle's traveling fans, the Emerald City Supporters, provide the back-and-forth vocals from that southwest corner.

On the field, passion is always matched. The series is punctuated by many infamous moments: Roger Levesque's falling timber celebration for Seattle or Rodney Wallace's gutting the fish motion for Portland, to name just a couple.

Regardless of how things unfold on Saturday, all eyes across the league will be on Portland, Oregon for the greatest rivalry in North American soccer. Yes, the season is still young. Nevertheless, Portland needs to secure a win this Saturday at home, since both of the remaining games are in Seattle. A big win or loss could be a turning point for either team, either positively or negatively.