The Portland Timbers might have managed to beat the worst of the heat when they take to the pitch this evening in what is sure to be a strength-sapping match against the Seattle Sounders, but the pressure is still on as the team looks to bounce back from a series of three road losses in just over a week.
As always, the Timbers’ defensive corps is in disarray, losing otherwise reliable left center back Roy Miller to yellow card accumulation with Liam Ridgewell and Gbenga Arokoyo still out injured. That leaves utility men Amobi Okugo and Lawrence Olum as the side’s likely center back pairing, barring a sudden spike in the stock of Jamaican youngster Rennico Clarke. Okugo, who played 90 minutes in Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to Minnesota United, and Olum, who was one of the few Timbers rested midweek, are both defensive midfielders at heart but have plenty of experience at center back.
The lack of an obvious organizing force at the back is a real concern for the Timbers as they face a Sounders side that are more than capable of disrupting a back line with their movement, particularly the runs of Jordan Morris in concert with the passing of Nicolas Lodeiro and the ability of Clint Dempsey to find space between the lines. To that end, the Timbers will need to rely on their keeper, likely but not certainly Jake Gleeson, to be vocal and commanding from between the sticks.
Equally important will be the presence of Diego Chara and David Guzman at defensive midfield. The pair can be among the most disruptive players in the league and if they can lock down their area and provide support to the back line, the Timbers should be able to deal with the misfiring Sounders attack.
A defense first approach from Chara and Guzman could reap other rewards for the Timbers as well. By taking a more conservative approach to the match, the Timbers can open up the pitch in the Seattle end, creating space for their attacking players to hit out on the break — the preferred environment of the side’s premier goal scorers, Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi.
The Seattle defense is at its best when getting stuck in. Chad Marshall and company are strong tacklers and monsters in the air, but when put on the back foot their best strengths are minimized. The same can be said for the Sounders’ outside backs, Brad Evans and Joevin Jones. Both strong on the ball and going forward, the ability of Evans and Jones to influence the attack is minimized when players like Darlington Nagbe and Dairon Asprilla — the Timbers’ wide midfield pairing in the absence of Sebastian Blanco following his red card against Minnesota — are looking to get behind them and go on the break.
Watch it on: ESPN2
When: Sunday, June 25th at 7:30 p.m. PT
Where: Providence Park in Portland, OR
Portland Timbers: 7-7-3, 4th place in the Western Conference, lost 3-2 at Minnesota United
Seattle Sounders: 5-7-5, 8th place in the Western Conference, tied 1-1 vs. Orlando City SC