With the Portland Timbers set to face off against the Seattle Sounders tomorrow, we have once again turned to one of our SB Nation sister-sites for the low down on the Timbers' opponents. For this one we spoke with Sounder at Heart's Dave Clark and he filled us in on just what is going on with the Timbers' most hated rivals.
Stumptown Footy: In the absence of Martins and Dempsey, who is going to step up and be the catalyst for the Sounders attack?
Sounder at Heart: Based on the past couple of games? No one. Who needs to step up is simple - Lamar Neagle, Marco Pappa and one of the kids at forward. Neagle and Pappa can both do damage from the wings, but for now they are the attack. Seattle's forward depth is the injured Chad Barrett (who may be available soon) and two Homegrown Players (Darwin Jones and Victor Mansaray).
None of the five are capable of creating space for others and will need to work the ball quickly. Ideally Seattle will use a few more throughballs or longballs to spring the speedy types (Neagle, Jones, Mansaray) or emulate the rapid passing when Clinfemi play, but without all the nifty stuff. It won't be as pretty and it won't be as goal-score-y, but if the Sounders can find a way to get even an average offense during the next month they should at least tread water.
SF: After the Timbers' collapse against LA, the Sounders now have the fewest goals allowed in the league despite losing their last two matches. What do the Sounders need to do to get the back line locked down once again in light of their absences and recent play?
SaH: The last match isn't really an indication of much. Chad Marshall and Tyrone Mears were rested. Even if Brad Evans is still out the defense is fully capable of succeeding with a backline of Dylan Remick, Zach Scott, Marshall and Mears. They will need some help from the midfield. Pineda-Azira was a poor central pairing that allowed more danger to get through to the backline. Osvaldo Alonso could be back, and that will fix that midfield issue. Even in the performance against San Jose the 'Quakes only managed 1.1 xG.
Even shorter version: the Sounders defense is really good this year.
SF: Will any feelings from the Open Cup seep into this primetime MLS match?
SaH: Yep. Seattle completely embarrassed themselves. While it was mostly Dempsey, Sigi made some statements that weren't a great look. Losing at Starfire removes the mysticism from that stadium. There is a simple way to clear the air - win. Win honorably while weakened and wash the stench of referee talk from this organization while maintaining the lead in the Western Conference. Look for players like Evans, Scott, Neagle to channel their hate for Portland towards victory.
Projected Lineup: Frei; Remick, Marshall, Evans, Mears; Thomas, Alonso, Pineda, Rose; Pappa; Neagle -- If Alonso can't go then Azira will start.
Of course, we returned the favor and answered three of Dave's questions as well. Check them out here:
SaH: Paparatto has to step in for Ridgewell. What's that going to do to a defense that's been quite consistent in structure?
SF: After a disastrous introduction in 2014, Paparatto has quietly become an excellent defensive piece for the Timbers. Although he has only seen spot duty so far this season, Papa has steped in ably when called on and currently boasts over three hundred minutes played in MLS since the Timbers conceded their last goal with him on the pitch.
The interesting thing about inserting Paparatto into the lineup is the different look he gives the Timbers' back line when paired with either Ridgewell or Borchers. While both of those players seem to prefer sitting back and organizing the defense, Paparatto is a much more proactive defender, stepping up to break up plays, pick off passes or win headers, all the while making optimal use of his lanky frame to make things difficult for his opponents.
SaH: Portland is one of the more successful teams at attacking set-pieces. What do they do to succeed there?
There have been a number of factors that have contributed to the Timbers ability to attack set pieces this season.
First and foremost has to be the Timbers' array of quality set-piece takers. With Will Johnson and Diego Valeri both irregular members of the first team so far, other players have had their chance to step up and deliver the Timbers' free kicks and those players have seized their chances. Jack Jewsbury had a brief return to his 2011-era set piece delivery earlier this season, while in recent matches Jorge Villafana has been serving up some excellent corners and free kicks.
Another major factor is the range of good -- not necessarily great -- targets that the Timbers have in their lineup. Of the Timbers attacking players, only the forwards, Maximiliano Urruti and Fanendo Adi, have been regular threats on set pieces, even if Rodney Wallace has been known to score a header or two. The defenders, however, have been regular terrors on set pieces, with Nat Borchers scoring two goals already this season.
Finally, the Timbers employ a surprising number of pre-designed set piece plays designed to get a player into a one on one situation with their defender. Most often these plays have targeted Borchers at the far post or Liam Ridgewell at the near, but other variations have certainly been deployed as well.
SaH: Will any feelings from the Open Cup seep into this primetime MLS match?
With the Sounders coming off a trio of disappointing losses and the Timbers having absolutely fallen apart in LA midweek, it is hard to imagine either team going after this one with anything other than maximum effort.
Will there be some fallout from the USOC specifically? I am inclined to imagine that the game will get chippy quickly and could quickly escalate, but I don't think that any of the players on the field will carry a specific grudge beyond the usual Timbers/Sounders rivalry intensity.
If I had to guess the Timbers player most likely to get involved in a donnybrook of some sort with a Seattle player, Will Johnson is the easy answer, but my dark horse candidate is Paparatto, who is excellent at stirring up trouble, but not very good at staying out of it.
Projected Lineup: Kwarasey; Villafana, Paparatto, Borchers, Powell; Chara, Johnson; Wallace, Valeri, Nagbe; Adi