The Portland Timbers are headed up north to take on the Seattle Sounders tomorrow in a clash of Western Conference and, more importantly, Cascadia rivals. To get the low down on the Timbers' opposition we turn to our fri... *hurk*... our friends... *hurk*... our SB Nation sister site Sounder at Heart.
Whatever you call them, Sounder at Heart's Dave Clark was kind enough to answer our questions and fill us in on a team that has seen plenty of changes since they last faced the Timbers.
Since June the Sounders have been riddled with injuries and suspensions, picked up some new players, and have generally been a team in flux. Who is healthy, who isn't, and and how badly has the inability to put together a consistent lineup hurt the Sounders?
Who is healthy/not is a tough question to answer. Sigi has been quite close to the vest with the status of Clint Dempsey, Osvaldo Alonso, Chad Barrett and Leo Gonzalez. Andreas Ivanschitz is out, as are three players way down the depth chart.
Lineup issues were a huge part of the Dire Days. There is no doubting that. Should the Sounders have scraped together a couple of ties from June 16th to the present? Yes, they failed - hard. For that reason they added Ivanschitz, Friberg, Torres and Haedo Valdez. That's a lot of change in the secondary transfer window.
When fully healthy that means the following players from the Shield winning team no longer start - Neagle, Pappa, Pineda, Gonzalez, Scott and Yedlin. During the Dire Days the Sounders were without Dempsey, Martins, Alonso, Evans, Pappa, Gonzalez and Frei for half or more of their losses. If one were to rank the importance of Sounders players that would be seven of the top nine with only Marshall and Mears playing most of the time during that down stretch.
Whatever the reasons for the failures then and the hopes for success now, there is a hole. They dug it themselves. They can climb out, or bury the team based on these final few weeks.
Andreas Ivanschitz, Roman Torres, and Nelson Valdez are the three big additions that the Sounders made late in the summer transfer window; how are they fitting into the team and how do they change the team from the Sounders side that we saw earlier this year?
Ivanschitz is still injured and will not play. The idea is that when he's healthy he will be a Mauro Rosales type hugging the line and slinging the ball in on crosses and set-pieces. With a roster at full health he may be guy on the bubble of the 12 (competing with Pappa and Neagle for starts).
Roman Torres puts another defensive anchor alongside Chad Marshall. It's a huge tandem and potentially the best in CONCACAF club soccer. Both are great in the air. What Torres adds that Marshall doesn't is some long ball accuracy, but he is less effective at short passing than Brad Evans was, that means that the fullbacks and CDM have to sit a bit closer to the two CBs in order to start possession out of the back.
Nelson Haedo Valdez burst on the scene. He's a clearly capable forward that love the contact that MLS offers, as he has the necessary speed and dribbling to burst out of it and range free. With the Sounders he will play as a forward alongside Clint or Oba, or when they are both healthy he can be a very high right wing. Haedo Valdez provides good forward pressure after turnovers, a bit like Martins. With those two on the field Seattle can create early turnovers and hit transitions quickly.
With the Sounders now just a tie-breaker away from falling out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference and the San Jose Earthquakes surging up the table, how badly do the Sounders need a win here if they are going to right the ship and not miss out on the playoffs for the first time in the franchise's MLS era?
Since I'm late on my responses I get to answer this as the Sounders being out of the Playoffs. There is no more clear symbol about how far this Summer's fall happened than looking up at the red line. The standards here are high. For the soccer aficionados it was 2006 that they last saw the Sounders miss the Playoffs. That was only their second time doing so since 1994. That's a long history of success on the field that is in danger of getting a giant asterisk next to it.
It is fitting that the time to right the ship is against the Timbers. There is no better way to re-energize the fanbase and the team, than to use national television, 63,000+ in attendance and the return of a couple players to say "we're back. The dire days are over." It's not going to be easy. This Fall is not going to be easy. Adrian, Garth, Sigi and the players created this for themselves. It's time for them to release the pressure valve with a resounding victory.
Lineup prediction: Frei; Fisher, Torres, Marshall, Mears; Pappa, Friberg, Evans, Rose; Martins, Haedo Valdez