The Seattle Sounders will host the Portland Timbers tomorrow evening for the two teams' second match up of the season. The game will likely be among the most well attended in the history of Major League Soccer as 68,000 people will be packed in to CenturyLink Field to get a look at the best rivalry in American soccer. Among those tens of thousands will be several thousand Portlanders, braving the bad coffee and lackluster beer of the fishing village to the north in order to cheer the Timbers on to victory in this Cascadian clash.
Here is what you need to know about the two teams:
Coming off of their 3-3 draw against league leaders Real Salt Lake, the Timbers are actually in possession of the second longest active undefeated streak in MLS at three games, behind only the Colorado Rapids, who have not seen defeat since their 3-0 hiding at the hand of the Timbers back in June. The Timbers current run started with a 1-1 tie against the other team in Cascadia, the Vancouver Whitecaps, and continued with a well managed 2-1 win over FC Dallas.
Over the course of that three game run, however, the Timbers have acquired quite the list of injured and suspended players. The big two that will likely be out for tomorrow's game are Will Johnson and Diego Chara, the Timbers' dynamic duo of holding midfielders. With those two out, Ben Zemanski and Jack Jewsbury should be the natural picks to step in to the center of the midfield for the Timbers; however, both Zemanski and Jewsbury are batting injuries and have been listed by Caleb Porter as "day to day". The injuries that are plaguing the team are not limited to the suddenly gaping hole in the center of the pitch, however, as Frederic Piquionne, the team's depth at forward for much of this year, is out as well.
So, how will the Timbers pull it together in the face of this adversity? By playing to their strengths.
Rumor has it that the Sounders could line up in a 4-4-2 diamond formation against the Timbers, one that gives a team a strong spine, but leaves the flanks in the hands of the fullbacks, something that the Timbers exploited well against both FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake, both of whom used the 4-4-2 diamond formation in Portland. The onus will be on Rodney Wallace and Darlington Nagbe to attack from the outside and stretch out the Seattle defense, with some support from Michael Harrington and Alvas Powell getting forward regularly.
The Timbers will look to pin their opponents back with possession of the ball, a tactic that they have successfully applied against several strong teams on the road this year. This will give the Timbers plenty of chances to put one in the back of the net, but they will need to be wary of Seattle breaking out on the counter as RSL did in the two sides' Open Cup match two and a half weeks ago. To that effect, the defensive line will need to be very organized and keep the Seattle attackers contained without dropping off too much to support their own offense.
The Sounders, although they are six points back from the Timbers, have played fewer matches than any other team in MLS. With the early days of the season plagued by injuries and their time occupied by the CONCACAF Champions League, the Sounders got off to a slow start this year but have been coming on of late and look to pose an even bigger danger thanks to a recent infusion of talent.
Maybe you have heard of Clint Dempsey?
Sure, we are all sick of hearing about him (MLSsoccer.com has latched onto Dempsey like ESPN onto Tim Tebow), but Dempsey is a legitimate threat and could be the best player in MLS if he is given some time to reaclimate to the league. The biggest question about Dempsey, however, is how he will fit into a Sounders side already full of offensive talent. Playing him alongside Obafemi Martins and Eddie Johnson will give the Sounders a glut of attacking firepower with little structure and plenty of creativity, a nightmare for most defenses to handle. The Timbers will need to be disciplined and attentive if they want to shut down those three.
Getting Dempsey into the lineup will require some adjustments from Seattle's Sigi Schmid and likely involve him switching to either a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2 diamond formation, rather than his recently preferred flat 4-4-2. In either set up the Sounders will look to attack down the middle and rely on their fullbacks, Leo Gonzalez and DeAndre Yedlin, to provide width for the team. This could give the Timbers the opening they need to go at the Sounders on the wings.
Sounder at Heart's expected Sounders line-up: Michael Gspurning; Leo Gonzalez, Djimi Traore, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, DeAndre Yedlin; Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Shalrie Joseph, Clint Dempsey; Eddie Johnson, Obafemi Martins.
The Timbers have plenty of ready made excuses for this one, but a loss would be a real letdown going into this match. The Sounders already have 4 points in the Cascadia Cup standings to the Timbers' three, so a loss in Seattle would dig an awfully deep hole for the Timbers to climb out of if they want to retain possession of the cup. Not only that, but dropping three points to the Sounders has the potential to put the Timbers back into the middle of the pack in the hunt for a playoff spot, rather than at the front.
The Sounders are a dangerous team, but one in a state of flux, and it is important that the Timbers show they can go on the road and lock down their defense against talented attacking player like they will see in Seattle. The Timbers have every chance of coming away from this with a point or more, but it will take everything they have got to make it happen.
Watch it on: ESPN2
Kick off: 7:00 pm at CenturyLink Field (Seattle, WA)
Portland Timbers: 39 points, 3rd in the Western Conference.
Seattle Sounders: 33 points, 7th in the Western Conference.