As I sit at my desk on a Friday morning, warm coffee in my Timber's mug, anticipating the game against Seattle tomorrow, my thoughts are not one of optimism.
Quite the opposite.
Considering the way Seattle has been playing, and the re-energized form of Freddy Montero and Eddie Johnson, I, quite frankly, am worried that it could be a bloodbath.
Seattle is looking like they could win the MLS Cup while Portland has more personalities than Madonna on acid.
When was the last time they beat a quality team? Um, that would be way back on July 3rd against San Jose. Sure, the team exhibited some spark in recent wins over Vancouver and Colorado, only to be brought back down to earth with a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of the Avalanche.
This is a team that, all season, has clearly demonstrated they don't deal well with pressure. They haven't won on the road all year and how many times have they given up a call in the final fifteen minutes? Too many to count.
The optimists will point out the improved play of Darlington Nagbe and the emergence of Franck Songo'o, Sal Zizzo, and Bright Dike. They will point out to the attacking style of the Timber's along with more goals and opportunities.They are playing exciting and inspired soccer over the past few weeks.
What they fail to see are the defensive deficiencies of this team. That they failed to hold a 2-0 lead against NYC for even fifteen minutes. That the wins against Colorado and Vancouver could easily have been losses if not for a bit of luck (and an incredible save by Steve Smith). There are holes in this defense that couldn't be filled with a Mac truck and a pile of cement. It certainly doesn't help that Steve Smith will be riding the bench due to yellow card accumulation.
Add to that a Sounder's team bent on revenge from their first visit to Jeld-Wen, and the defense will be under pressure the entire game. I especially expect Montero to be dangerous and looking for a bit of payback.
So, how can the Timber's hope to win the game (and probably their only realistic chance at capturing the Cascadia Cup?)
Let's start with this porous defense.
I am scared silly that GW is going to start David Horst at center back and play a high line. Did anyone watch how well that worked against Los Angeles? Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane ate up the Timber's and the Galaxy scored an all-time high of five goals against the Timber's at the MLS level. If Seattle isolates Montero against Horst, he might score a hat trick and it's going to be very, very ugly.
I'd love to see Danso back there, but the rumor is that he is in GW's dog house for inexplicable reasons. He has more speed than Horst as well as much better foot skills. Seattle doesn't look to play the ball in the air that much (which is Horst's specialty) and prefer to play a ground game with sophisticated combination plays.
I think the most reasonable choice would be Rodney Wallace at left back and just hope he can get the job done. We're going to need speed and athleticism and Wallace is a good athlete.
The most interesting, and important, match-up will be how Diego Chara deals with Mauro Rosales in the mid-field. This is actually a pretty good match-up for Chara and I think he's a good enough defender to deal with Rosales.
So, how do the Timber's win?
Hopefully then can get off to a fast start and get the Sounders playing on their heels. Jeld-Wen is always a hostile environment, and being down early will only put that much more pressure on the Sounders.
As far as tactics, I don't know if Portland can stick with Seattle in an open game. Our defense just doesn't look up to the task and shutting down the Seattle counter attacks. Unfortunately, I can see GW putting his foot on the gas and trying to trade blows with Seattle. Personally, I think John Spencer's style is much, much more effective at dealing with the Sounders. Crowd the mid-field, slow the game down and attack through the air and with set plays.
It would be pretty awesome, and amazing, if Portland could beat Seattle and put a little put of a varnish on an unforgettable season, but I just don't think GW will out coach Sigi Schmidt. As much as I would love to lift the Cascadia Cup, I just can't see it happening.