Feels like it's been forever since I've watched the Timbers play. I guess when you get three games the week prior you become a little spoiled by the fact that there's always another game in just a few days. It's made worse by the fact that this week isn't even a home game. Sure, plenty of us will be heading up to Seattle to cheer on the guys, but it's still nothing close to the atmosphere that Jeld-Wen Field gives.
Anyway, today marks the return of the Cascadia Cup and the first time the rivalry has ever been played in MLS. This is a huge game not only for bragging rights, but also because were the Portland Timbers to take home the three points tonight it would go a long way to bringing us to the top of the Western Conference, so much so, in fact, that tonight's game could very well change the national outlook on the club for the entirety of the season. Big stuff...
But before we can start bragging in the Timbers' victory, we should probably wait until the game is played. Let's take a look at the two teams:
Assessing Our Team
The Timbers are currently coming off an impressive regular season home game winning streak. In fact, the last thing the guys need to do is prove that they're able to win on the road. What better place to do that in than the home of the Flounders?There's been a lot of talk about how the Timbers can't win on the road. In my opinion, these quick judgements aren't really justified yet, especially if you look back at our road games. There's no doubt about it, in the first two games the Timbers didn't play well. It was unfortunate but to be expected as the team was still attempting to gel together. John Spencer also didn't have his final starting eleven nailed down yet.
Since those two games the Timbers look fairly different in both the midfield and defense creating a better team with a more solid backline. This is, of course, all not mentioning the addition of Diego Chara who has brought a great creative element in the center of the field. While it's true that this is largely the same team fielded against the Los Angeles Galaxy away from home, one should remember that LA is an incredibly deep and well managed team with a overall salary approx. 6 times that of the Timbers. To put it succinctly: they're an easy team to lose on the road to.
In tonight's game it will be important for Diego Chara and Jack Jewsbury to take a commanding lead of the midfield before Seattle can start organizing things as I have a feeling that tonight's game will be won based on the merits of each team's midfield.
Here's my predicted starting line up:
Troy Perkins; Rodney Wallace, Futty Danso, Eric Brunner, Jeremy Hall; Kalif Alhassan, Jack Jewsbury, Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe; Kenny Cooper, Jorge Perlaza
The singular change that might occur in this is that John Spencer might start Sal Zizzo instead of Darlington Nagbe. Zizzo has been very impressive lately and, as is Spencer's motto, there's no guaranteed first team. Whoever plays the best gets the spot.
Assessing the Enemy
The Seattle Sounders are an impressive team. No use denying it and anybody who does is only attempting to fool themselves based on their bias. That said, there's definitely some holes in their current squad brought on by some recent injuries and, in all honesty, they're not nearly the threat they were in the last half of the 2010 season.
Those of you will remember earlier this year that Steve Zakuani was severely injured. While it's unfortunate he won't get to play, his creativeness and tenacity are not easily replicated, which is great for the Timbers game tonight. Likewise, Seattle striker O'Brian White has also been injured recently removing a key element in the Sounders attack. Both of these are large losses for the team which will hopefully benefit the guys tonight.
That said, there are still a number of important players expected to take the field tonight, the biggest one being the Sounders captain: Kasey Keller. Getting around Keller won't be easy, but it's also not proving to be as large an obstacle this year as it was in years previously. Thus far, he has allowed 10 goals in for 10 games played, essentially about one game per match. While those numbers don't add up to an even one games per match, it's certainly indicative of his voerall performance. Bottom line he's letting in goals. If the guys can score against Nick Rimando, they should have no problems with Kasey Keller.
The other notable is Fredy Montero the "wonder" Colombian striker who's hit a dry spell for the first third of the season. Currently the speedy Colombian is sitting at just 2 goals and 2 assists. These are small numbers for the recently-made Designated Player and will hopefully benefit us tonight. Brad Evans, remarkably enough, is probably the player the Timbers should be looking out for as he's been on a recent hot streak for goals.
Here's Seattle's project starting line up:
Kasey Keller; James Riley, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Jeff Parke, Tyson Wahl; Osvaldo Alonso; Alvaro Fernandez, Erik Friberg, Brad Evans; Fredy Montero, Nate Jaqua
Ugh... tough game to call. Lot's of pressure on the guys in which most are appearing in their first Cascadia Cup rivalry ever. Suffice it to say it's going to be a very physical match that's going to push each player to their limits. My only hope is that no serious injuries are caused during the game.
I'm hesitant to make any sort of real predictions about tonight's match. I believe the Timbers are better in the midfield and especially striking positions, but the backline still needs some work which could be the fatal flaw in a win tonight. I suppose we'll just have to wait and see.
Tonight's game is on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com at 8:00 PM.