The Portland Timbers are back in preseason action today, taking on their hated rivals, the Seattle Sounders. Like the Timbers, the Sounders have strived to keep the core of their side intact over the offseason, but have made a few significant changes along the way.
The match will mark the fourth time that the two sides have met in the preseason since the Timbers joined MLS, starting with 2011's Cascadia Summit.
As with all teams in the league, the Sounders are still in the early stages of their preseason and there is precious little to go on as we try to get a full grip on just how Sigi Schmid's side will line up.
The team's lone preseason match to date, a 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps, saw the side run out a starting XI missing one, possibly two, key contributors to national team duty. Team captain Brad Evans and heralded homegrown signing Jordan Morris, were both with the United States Men's National Team, playing alongside the Timbers' own Darlington Nagbe. Evans returned to camp with the Sounders after the US's 3-2 win against Iceland on Tuesday after suffering from hamstring tightness that will likely keep him out of tonight's match, while Morris stayed with the US and played in last night's 1-0 win over Canada.
Still, the XI that the Sounders featured against the Whitecaps looks very similar to some of the side's late season lineups from 2015:
Stefan Frei; Tyrone Mears, Jimmy Ockford, Chad Marshall, Joevin Jones; Osvaldo Alonso, Erik Friberg, Andreas Ivanschitz; Obafemi Martins, Clint Dempsey, Nelson Valdez.
Frei, Mears, and Marshall were all stalwarts on the back line for the Sounders in 2015, while Jones and Ockford are fresh faces in the Sounders defense. Ockford, a third year pro out of Louieville, has made one appearance for the Sounders in league play, spending 2014 on loan to the New York Cosmos and much of 2015 with Sounders 2. Approximately number four on the Sounders' depth chart at centerback, Ockford was pressed into service with the team's starters by Evans' absence and the continued loss of centerback Roman Torres following the torn ACL he suffered in September of last year. Jones, meanwhile, is a new arrival to the Sounders, having been picked up in a bit of draft-day maneuvering from the Chicago Fire. A Trinidad and Tobego international, Jones will add pace and athleticism to the flank for the Sounders.
In the midfield, the Sounders featured a familiar trio. Despite persistent rumors that he was being shopped to other teams around the league over the offseason, Alonso remains at the heart of the Sounders' midfield playing the No. 6 role. Friberg, now in his second stint with the Sounders, and Ivanschitz are not Seattle institutions like Alonso, but both featured prominently in the Sounders attempts to right the ship late last season.
Finally, the attacking trio of Martins, Dempsey, and Valdez are exactly what opponents of the Sounders were expecting to see at the end of last season. However, this year there is every expectation that Morris will get significant minutes in the Sounders' expensive attacking corps, either spelling one of the team's over-30 attackers -- Martins is 31; Dempsey and Valdez are 32 -- or outright winning a place in the XI.
Beyond the starters and players missing due to injury or absence, the Sounders -- like everyone in MLS -- do not have many depth pieces threatening to break into the XI. New arrival Michael Farfan, signed as a free agent following his time with D.C. United, is an MLS veteran and an able body in the midfield, while midfield trialists Ben Speas and Nathan Sturgis also have had their fair share of appearances in MLS. None, however, have shown the quality to displace the Sounders' current starters.
That is not to say that the side is without potential. Homegrown player Dawrin Jones scored the Sounders' lone goal against Vancouver, and youngsters Aaron Kovar and Christian Roldan are both highly regarded and skillful attacking players.
Watch it on: Streaming on Timbers.com
Kickoff: 6:00 p.m. PT at Kino Sports Complex In Tucson, AZ
Portland Timbers: Finished 3rd in the Western Conference in 2015, 15-11-8
Seattle Sounders: Finished 4th in the Western Conference in 2015, 15-13-6