There were three really large, very important games this season: the season opener, the home opener, and now this Sunday's game against Seattle which takes place in Portland. There are few games more important than playing your arch rival at home in front of your fans. Sure, there will be a few middling Sounders supporters stuck in the SW corner of Jeld-Wen, but they'll be pretty insignificant up there. This is also not to discount any upcoming games against Vancouver, both f which will be very important in their own right.
Unfortunately, since the last meet and greet between the teams on May 14th, the two teams which were at one time equal in the standings (with the Portland Timbers having a couple games on the Seattle Sounders) have since drifted pretty far apart, and not in any way that a Timbers fan would be happy for. In each teams last five games the differences are pretty glaring. The Portland Timbers have gone (W-L-D) 0-4-1. On the other side of the coin the Sounders have gone 3-0-2. Not a good comparison by any stretch.
So let's take a few minutes and see what makes this team tick.
Montero Falters, Others Shine
The good news is that, since the last meeting, Fredy Montero still hasn't become the striker everybody hoped he would become once he was given that precious "DP" status and pay raise. In fact, he's so far been playing worse than he has his two previous years. Something I certainly wouldn't be happy of were he on the Timbers (god forbid!).
In 17 games played thus far, Montero has notched just 3 goals and 4 assists. Compare that to his previous years where he notched 10/10 in 2010 and 12/7 in 2009 and it becomes clear that something's amiss with their key striker. This is good news for the Timbers because, despite his recent performance, he's still a speedy striker with decent technical skills. I'd much rather he come into Sunday's match limping with low confidence than be running on a hot streak.
That said, while Montero has seemingly fallen by the wayside, other players have certainly stepped up to deliver solid performances, specifically Brad Evans and Albaro Fernandez, two attacking midfielders who have each scored four goals. Each, should they take the field, should be marked by the fans as potential threats.
Another player to look out for would be Mauro Rosales. While he only has a single goal to his name, he's accrued 4 assists, the same amount as Fredy Montero.
All in all, I think we should be looking at the midfield as the most dangerous threat rather than the, persumably, two strikers up top: Fredy Montero and Roger Levesque. The latter of which has scored two goals, both being against a fairly exhausted and Thierry Henry-less New York Red Bulls side. I do, however, expect him to be given the starting position.
Defensive and Goalkeeping Stability
The good news here is that, according to the most recent games, it doesn't look like Seattle has the rock solid defense that teams like the LA Galaxy do. While they've managed to win the majority of their previous five games they've done with while still allowing in 5 goals.
Truth be told, though, Seattle has never been an overly defensive side instead preferring to keep pressure at the other end of the field, but they do have some key players to look out for, namely James Riley and Jeff Parke, each of which have played in almost every single game this year. Parke has seemingly been pretty solid in the center back role this year, while James Riley, as the right back winger has been phenomenal in streaking up the sides to get in crosses for his team. Like I said, more offensive than defensive. Looking back at the nil-nil draw against Seattle, James Riley seems to have had more crosses and runs down the right side than any other player, according to Chalkboard.
And then, of course, looking back to the man in the net, Kasey Keller is obviously very rock solid. Currently he is holding onto a very respectable .9 goals allowed average (GAA). Essentially that means he allows in less than a single goal for each game. Not bad, and certainly better than Troy Perkins 1.64 (GAA) Not that Perkins is a worse keeper, it's just the defensive backline isn't helping him out at all.
Keys to the Match
The Portland Timbers will have to pick and choose where they're dominant because, as a team right now, they're not going to be able to win everywhere. Unfortunately, deciding where to be dominant is a little difficult. Arguably, I'd say the Timbers midfield is the strongest area with Captain Jack Jewsbury leading and Darlington Nagbe and Kalif Alhassan on the sides. But even that leaves me wondering if they're strong enough, as a team to overpower Seattle's midfield which, as I showed you was their strongest section as well.
Instead, I'm wondering if the Timbers should maybe focus on the defense and offense more so than the midfield. Put the midfield into a diamond formation with Jewsbury playing back defensively and Chara or Nagbe playing up top directly behind the strikers. At that point you're bringing in a new dynamic that would, hopefully, remove the equation of being out muscled in the center.
Besides, with Darlington Nagbe showing what he's capable of against Sporting Kansas City last weekend, I'm inclined to give him more of an attacking presence... but that's just me.
The weekend's Cascadia Cup match is being broadcast on ESPN and will kick off at 1:00PM. I highly recommend getting their early as the stadium and TA sections will probably be full pretty early on.
MODERATION NOTE: Seattle Sounder fans who comment to do nothing but cause problems will be instantly banned. I will have a zero tolerance policy for the entire weekend. No leniency. Some of you have been respectful in the past and I should hope that you'll continue throughout the weekend. Thanks!