The Portland Timbers have headed up to Tukwila, WA in anticipation of tomorrow's U.S. Open Cup match against their Cascadian rivals, the Seattle Sounders. With months separating us from the Timbers' last match up against the Sounders, we exchanged some info with the enemy, getting the skinny on the Sounders from Dave Clark of Sounder at Heart.
Check out our questions and his answers here.
The Sounders are coming off a 3-0 win on Saturday against FC Dallas that was missing Brad Evans, Obafemi Martins, and Osvaldo Alonso from the starting XI; what sort of lineup should Timbers fans expect to see from them on Tuesday?
It's going to be a mix the regular XI and some rotational players. Sounders FC avoided cup-tying most of their reserves, but it might not matter with the draw going the way it did. It seems more likely that the depth players will get their run in the next round, against a team less likely to field their own ideal XI. Of those three starters that didn't start, Martins is the least likely to be in the 18 on Tuesday night. He's an international and he's still recovering from a broken nose and surgery. I can't think of a match more likely to re-injure that nose than one at Starfire against Portland. Alonso didn't play at all, but that's due to a hamstring issue. Evans went 45 minutes, and is working back to fitness/timezone issues after he beat Germany.
Zach Scott is certain to play, because it's Portland.
How did the Sounders manage to go from the worst defense of any team to make the playoffs in 2014 to the best defense in the league in 2015? And how did they keep their league-leading attack intact in the process?
If you look at tempo neutral stats, Seattle's defense was really good in 2014. It appears awful because their run-and-gun attack just gave other teams so many more opportunities. Now, as a possession team that also improved their defense by moving Evans into CB the tempo mask is removed and the true quality of three-time defensive player of the year [Chad Marshall] with premier defensive mid Alonso shows. When Seattle wins the ball they will initially look for a quick strike into the final third and the feet of Clint/Obafemi. If that isn't available they use central third possession. This prevents other teams from attacking and allows the Sounders to find sequences that emulate counters from their own possession. It also maximizes the chance that they are in their preferred defensive shape. Strong shape, slow tactics and four defensive players (in order [Stefan Frei], Evans, Marshall, Alonso) who have a shot at the Best XI makes a defense that's hard to break.
What is it about Starfire that the Sounders like so much? How much of their success in the U.S. Open Cup can be attributed to playing there regularly?
From the early days of the MLS Sounders they were built to win the ball in the air and strike quickly. With the small pitch of Starfire Stadium that type of roster is perfect. The close proximity of the crowd and a roof over the main stands help with homefield advantage from noise. Then you add in the undefeated record from late 2008 until just last week with S2 and there is a mysticism. That mighty Fortress Starfire helps, but for all benefits of hosting there Seattle won two Finals on the road and two at CenturyLink Field, twice beat Portland in Portland, beat San Jose in the Battle of Kezar. Only 2011 was a title won purely at home. And yes, 2013 sucked when they lost to Tampa Bay Rowdies in Tampa. Other teams have had similar opportunities, and lose at home.
Lineup prediction: Perkins; Gonzalez, Scott, Evans, Fisher; Kovar, Azira, Rose, Roldan; Neagle, Dempsey
This is a wild ass guess based on the assumption that Portland is going to run really close to their Best XI and that Sigi isn't willing to count on rookies (Thomas, Jones, Mansary) to provide offense against the Timbers.
Expect our answers to Dave's questions up at Sounder at Heart soon.