When the Portland Timbers face the Seattle Sounders this weekend, they will have a chance not only to prolong Seattle's winless streak, but also to turn the pair of recent beat-downs Seattle has suffered into a trio. In two games, the Sounders have conceded nine goals while scoring only two. They were spared the shame of giving up five goals in back-to-back games only because a goal by the Vancouver Whitecaps' Erik Hurtado was incorrectly ruled offside.
With their rival's confidence surely a little shaken, the Timbers need to strike early and often. Will they be able to, or will they struggle to reproduce the results earned by Vancouver and the Colorado Rapids?
Once they score first, the Timbers have seemingly lacked the killer instinct to add a second and third goal. They scored only once in games against the LA Galaxy and Colorado. At B.C. Place, the Timbers only scored their second after giving up the equalizer. Against lowly Toronto, it took the Timbers until the 83rd minute to add goals two, three, and four to a first-half tally by Kalif Alhassan. Sometimes the Timbers get punished for not getting the second (See: Vancouver x2) and sometimes they escape with all three points only by the skin of their teeth (See: Robbie Keane's disallowed stoppage time goal), prompting Caleb Porter to note that the team needs to get better at finding the next goal.
This is the time to break the habit of taking their foot off the gas when they take the lead. It's time to score the first goal, then get right back to the game and fight for the next one. The Supporter's Shield is still up for grabs and playoff positioning is up in the air. The Timbers still have a chance to build some real momentum before heading into the postseason.
There are other reasons too, although it's possible they matter more to the fans. A commanding victory in a rivalry where we've historically been the underdog would be thrilling. And if we must give up the Cascadia Cup, most supporters will probably feel better handing it off to the Southsiders rather than giving it to Seattle and watching them celebrate in our house.
The Timbers attack has plenty of firepower. They've scored 48 goals, behind only Real Salt Lake, the New York Red Bulls, and LA. Their goal differential of 15 is tied for best in the league. And while Portland won't want to abandon the strategies that have made them successful, Colorado and Vancouver and certainly given them a look (or nine looks) at how to dominate the Sounders.
The Sounders' back line was positively hopeless defending players on the break in both games, forcing Michael Gspurning to face a number of one-on-one situations, as he pointed out after Wednesday's game. Darlington Nagbe and Maximiliano Urruti have the pace to give them trouble. If either of them can get behind Seattle's defense, there will be no catching them. With Diego Valeri's status uncertain, Alhassan had better be perfecting his through-ball.
The Timbers may also be interested to note that Kekuta Manneh's first goal came from a poor clearance by Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, exactly the kind of clearance that pressure from a quick striker could cause. Basically, the Timbers need to recreate their goal against Colorado: high pressure forces a giveaway, a quick pass from the midfield puts someone in on goal, and then that player chips the keeper. Or perhaps nutmegs him. Then they need to recreate that another three or four times.
The Timbers have the skills to beat Seattle in spectacular fashion and Caleb Porter has the tactical mind to figure out how to do it. The factor that will probably matter the most is the mentality the Timbers bring to the match.