The Seattle Sounders face their old and hated foes the Portland Timbers on Sunday.
It’s Portland. The last Portland match of the year. I’ll be honest, I could give a rip about the Cascadia Cup right now. Vancouver’s pretty much got that wrapped up and do you actually hold much ire in your heart for our neighbors to the north? Nope, me neither. But Portland? I hate Portland. We drew one, we won one, let’s end this thing and end them.
The Timbers have had a nice little run, getting four results out of their last five games to claw out of the cellar and into the playoff picture. Currently Portland sits just out of contention with 31 points behind Vancouver (33 pts) and L.A. (37). So a win by the boys in the wrong color green puts Portland back in the dance. For now. The ‘Caps and Gals both have games in hand on PDX, but don’t tell that to any Timbers fans. Folks in Stumptown are taking Sunday’s game very, very seriously. I guess you have to when you’re barely clinging to the playoffs and your coach has been revealed to be less than a visionary.
Time and space are conspiring against the Cascadia Rivalry. Seattle and Portland will both be less than 100% as both played midweek games. The Sounders played more recently, Wednesday’s draw against San Jose, but didn’t travel. The Timbers, however, flew all the way to the Caribbean to beat Alpha United, a Guyanese team, in their first ever CONCACAF Champions league match 4-1 on Tuesday. Portland travelled many of their bets players, so there will be tired legs on both teams. Regardless of whether the twenty-two men who take the pitch in Portland are all marquee names or not, the game should live up to the billing.
On Twitter following Wednesday’s draw, I got into a small conversation regarding the Sounders’ form and forwarded the idea that this team still needs to jell. Let me explain.
The Sounders are more than just their best players. Yes we are two-thirds through the season, so the idea that we are still jelling may seem silly. But you rarely, if ever, get to start your ideal eleven for a sustained playoff run (Shalrie Joseph anyone?). You field who’s available at kickoff and hope it works. Though sometimes it doesn’t, like on Wednesday when too often players were occupying the same space on the field. When Kenny Cooper is playing as a midfielder and Andy Rose is making his third start of the season, you can expect some miscommunication. Sigi even addressed this at the half when he flipped Marco Pappa to the right so his pinching in could be overlapped by DeAndre Yedlin and still provide width in the attack. There is still time to be in experiment mode.
I am grateful the Sounders are working the kinks out with two months to play and sitting in first place. If we were still figuring out lineup combinations with a week to play and on the other side of the playoffs (hello Portland), I’d be pissing myself. But that isn’t the case. What if Rose needs to go in the playoffs because Pineda got hot-headed and saw red? What if Cooper needs to start in the middle or Barrett up top? Do I want to see Oba and Dempsey up top for the full ninety being fed by Pineda and Pappa and Evans from the midfield? Hell yeah! But that may not be a guarantee come autumn. This team has depth but it needs to fine-tune all its different roster permutations.
Seattle has never played a “system” like Porter in Portland or RSL. Sigi lets his players dictate form. So when the personnel changes, so does the attack. With all the games, injuries and suspensions lately, we are just seeing the many faces of the Sounders.
If you asked the average Sounders fan how the season was going right now, they’d respond with doom and gloom. But somehow we’re still in first place. Somehow we still have the best points-per-game. Somehow we’re still one game from making US Open Cup history. And we’re 48 hours from owning the Seattle-Portland rivalry in 2014. Last year sucked, Portland was our daddy. Let’s make that an aberration, a blip in history. Keep it simple Seattle, beat Portland.