The Portland Timbers are the current holders of the most unimpressive unbeaten run in MLS; despite now having gone eight games without a loss in the league, the Timbers have only taken fourteen points in that stretch. If the Timbers want to make a run at the playoffs by the end of the season, they will need to get wins, starting with Sunday's mid-day Cascadia Cup clash against the Seattle Sounders.
The Sounders, of course, have had trouble of their own this year and have been flirting with last place in the West for much of the season. Still, Seattle will be buoyed by Wednesday's 5-0 win over FC Dallas -- mitigating circumstances notwithstanding -- and will certainly be looking to show that they have turned a corner with a win in this rivalry match.
In this match, however, the Sounders will have head out on the road and compete with what should be a close to full strength Timbers team, rather than the handful of starters that Dallas brought to the Emerald City. The injury crisis in Portland has been a constant theme this season as over and over again the Timbers have been missing players due to all sorts of injuries. Now, however, it seems like the Timbers might be starting to come out the other side as players return to fitness.
Of those who are returning to the side, however, there is none more influential than Diego Valeri. The Timbers' "Maestro" has been out for the last three matches and although they played three defensively stout teams in that time, it is still no coincidence that with Valeri injured the Timbers scored only once.
The Maestro's return gives the Timbers a player in the center of the park who can score goals or unlock a defense, while also giving the Timbers some positional flexibility with players like Darlington Nagbe, who was dragooned into playing in a No. 10 role in Valeri's absence. With Valeri back and once again taking over the center of the pitch, the Timbers should be able to move Nagbe out wide and give him more freedom to roam the pitch or interchange with his fellow attacking players.
Valeri is not the only Timbers player to make his return in this one, however; Diego Chara will also be back in the lineup after serving a suspension for yellow card accumulation during the Timbers' 1-1 draw on Wednesday against the Montreal Impact. And while Jack Jewsbury deputized well in the center of the pitch, Chara's return should give the Timbers a more mobile and more balanced midfield pairing when he and Ben Zemanski are able to play alongside each other.
Chara's return will actually be made even more important as the Timbers face off against the Sounders, a team with quick, skillful wingers that they will rely on to generate chances in the absence of Clint Dempsey. The Timbers' center backs, Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell, should be more than capable of snuffing out any aerial attempts from the visitors, but when those forwards cut inside and go for goal themselves, Chara's ability to pop up and snuff out an attack will be vital.
Watch it on: FOX
Kickoff: 12:00 p.m. PT at Providence Park in Portland, OR
I know fans have come to expect the national tv games to kick off ~20min after listed time but again this Sun v SEA will be right at noon— Merritt Paulson (@MerrittPaulson) July 14, 2016
Portland Timbers: 6-6-8, 7th place in the Western Conference
Seattle Sounders: 6-10-2, 9th place in the Western Conference