The Portland Timbers renew their Cascadia rivalry with the Seattle Sounders with a trip to CenturyLink Field on Sunday (7pm PT, ESPN2, 750 The Game / La Pantera 940). Check out the lowdown on the opposition.
What can the Timbers expect?
For the Timbers, this is the big one. This is their El Clasico, their Old Firm and their Civil War all rolled up into one hugely competitive contest. Timbers vs. Seattle is always a fiery affair as it means so much to the supporters and that transfers to both teams. This Sunday, expect more of the same from a Cascadia rivalry that has become one of the must-see games for any MLS fan as neither team will want to surrender any pride to their noisy neighbor.
Once the action gets going, the Timbers will face off against a team that moves the ball forward quickly, commits several players to attacks, fights for every 50-50 ball, and can seize upon any mistake within a split second. The recent arrival of Clint Dempsey has further strengthened them as they keep their sights locked on winning a first ever MLS Cup. And the buzz surrounding the team right now makes them even more dangerous.
Where are they most vulnerable?
For Seattle, their big issue is trying to find the right balance with their starting lineup. They certainly have quality individuals, but getting all of them onto the pitch at the same time can disrupt their team shape and ruin any sort of gameplan they had mapped out. So the dilmenna facing head coach Sigi Schmid for this clash is how does he find room for Dempsey, Mauro Rosales, Lamar Neagle, Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins without being overloaded in attack?
As they attempt to figure that out, Seattle will be vulnerable in midfield – or at least out wide. The central area will be patrolled by Osvaldo Alonso and either Brad Evans, Shalrie Joseph or new recruit Blair Gavin, but if Rosales and Dempsey occupy places on either flank, then there will be little support offered to their outside backs. And that is an area that the Timbers must target with rookie DeAndre Yedlin and Leo Gonzalez likely to be under a lot of pressure. Also, Seattle has conceded 13 of its 26 goals this season in the periods just before and after halftime, so that may be the best time for the Timbers to strike.
Who are their main threats?
On the flip side of finding the right balance, Seattle could find a way to use their key men to fire them to victory. The playmaking ability of Rosales can slice any team open, the running and shooting from Dempsey can create something out of nothing, while they have proven finishers in Johnson, Martins, and Neagle, who has enjoyed a fantastic season thus far.
At set pieces, they will be a threat once Djimi Traore and either Patrick Ianni or John Kennedy Hurtado go forward, but Evans – if he starts – will be the one to watch in those situations. Yet, Seattle is a team, much like the Timbers, that prides itself on playing swift, attacking soccer, so you can expect them to rely on the speed and guile of their forward players much more than set pieces to give them an edge in what should be a fiery encounter.
Head coach: Sigi Schmid
Now in charge of his third different team in MLS, Schmid has won MLS Cup twice – in 2002 with LA Galaxy and in 2008 with Columbus Crew. A fiery character with a great soccer brain, Schmid can be an imposing boss but his players always have full respect for him and he has an ability to get the best out of them. He has also led Seattle to three US Open Cup victories.
Star Player: Clint Dempsey
Back in MLS after a hugely successful period in the English Premier League with Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur, this former New England Revolution star is expected to make his home debut for Seattle in this game. The United States international is one of the best that the country as ever produced with his superb turn of pace, close ball control, thunderous shot, and jaw-dropping skill allowing him to unravel defenses with relative ease.
One To Watch: DeAndre Yedlin
A standout with the Akron Zips in Caleb Porter’s final season in charge, this Washington native was snapped up by Seattle as the club’s first homegrown player. Since then, the attack-minded outside back has become a first-team regular, played in the FIFA U20 World Cup with the United States, and earned a spot on the 2013 MLS All-Star team – all that and he only recently turned 20.
What happened when the teams last met?
Trailing from an early strike from Johnson, the Timbers showed a lot of fight to secure a 1-1 tie when Rodney Wallace headed in a equalizer past the 90-minute mark. Having unloaded 13 shots at goal, Porter’s team were forced to go right to the end in this March outing to pick up a crucial point on the road against their closest rivals.
What did the Timbers learn from that game?
There are times when teams don’t get their just rewards, no matter how good they play. And that looked to be the case in this battle until Wallace powered in a header after good work by Andrew Jean-Baptiste. It was a valuable lesson to learn so early in the season as it helped the Timbers players to realize that battling right to the final whistle is required in big games and when things don’t go your way, try, try again.
It was hardly surprising to the Timbers that their opponents proved to be such a tough nut to crack as they had quality all over the pitch. The introduction of Nigeria forward Martins, for what was his Seattle debut, gave them an extra zip as he combined well with Johnson. Still, the Timbers dominated possession, maintained a better passing accuracy and won more individual duels to counteract their hosts’ quality.
What did the coaches have to say at the time?
Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter
“It gives us a lot of belief going forward. This team has a lot of mettle. I’m proud of our effort defensively. We dug deep. We gave up a goal and obviously it was a counter again and we got punished for it. But overall, for 90 minutes, we defended very well against that team – that’s a very dynamic team.”
Seattle Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid
“I think our play was a little bit too slow. It seemed like they were obviously pressing and were more ambitious in terms of winning 50-50 balls than we were, and that certainly turned the tide of the game.”
How has Seattle fared since then?
A lot of action has taken place since Seattle last took on the Timbers as they have played 20 games in MLS, two in the CONCACAF Champions League and one in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Regarding their league form, they are 10-8-4 for the season and have suffered just one defeat in their last five games. However, that loss to Houston Dynamo exposed some flaws in their midfield and Timbers coach Porter will surely have taken note of those.
Did You Know?
Seattle defender Djimi Traore, who has played club football in both France and England, won the UEFA Champions League with Liverpool in 2005 in a memorable win over AC Milan.