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Storylines: Portland Timbers vs Seattle Sounders

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The Timbers look to stop the bleeding

Sebastian Blanco shoots on Sounders’ Roldan and Frei. Kris Lattimore

The Story So Far

From 15 in a row to dropping the last three.

The Timbers put on a dismal display in Kansas City, reminiscent of the Red Bulls debacle this past March. You could tell the team were dead men walking; no one had any energy after playing three matches in a week.

Things are going to need to change if the Timbers want to make the playoffs. (I honestly can’t believe that I just wrote that.) The Timbers sit on the red line in sixth place — only two points ahead of the Sounders, who find themselves in seventh. Timbers lose, and we’re beneath the red line and things start to get dicey. Win, and we leapfrog both LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake into fourth place in the West. The operative word here is win.

The Seattle Sounders are going in the opposite direction than the Timbers at the moment, and for just a brief moment over the weekend, they were above the playoff line. By the end of the weekend, though, they were just two points off a playoff spot at the cost of their rivals.

The Sounders are one of the hottest teams in the league right now, and they will be coming into Providence Park to fight for that playoff spot. Can the Timbers end this horrifying run, or will the Sounders get the points needed to push the Timbers out of the playoff picture?

Jet City

I’m not sure what’s going on up north, but once again the Seattle Sounders are gearing up for their late-season run to the playoffs. This has been their M.O. for a few seasons now: Suck it up in the first half, race to the finish line, and get a spot in the playoffs in the last half of the season. It’s like clockwork at this point.

So the Sounders come into town winning seven of their last 10, including the last six in a row. They come dealing a hot hand and a fresh new DP leading the offensive charge.

We’ve only lost one match all season at home, and it was the one that kicked off this current skid. Make no mistake: This is going to be a tough one, and everyone is going to be amped up for it, so don’t be surprised if it gets a bit chippy.

Timbers, Whitecaps, and Sounders are all tied at 3 points a piece headed into the last round of matches for the Cascadia Cup. So there are a few things that are riding on this match — the Cascadia Cup, Portland and Seattle’s playoff hopes — and all that could come at the Timbers expense ... or the Green and Gold could send the Fish back to the Sound where they belong.

Chalkboard

With six straight wins, you’d think that Coach Brian Schmetzer must have made some sort of tactical adjustment to get them where they are, but that’s not really the case. They will come out in their tried and true 4-2-3-1, focusing on defense, and then on getting the ball to the creative players. Their newest addition is Peruvian striker Raul Ruidiaz, who has provided a much needed spark for the Sounders.

At times, they’ll take on a 4-4-2 shape when defending, with Ruidiaz and Nicolas Lodeiro playing the furthest up the field. Watch for the fullbacks to tuck in a bit more on defense. Speaking of the fullbacks, Nouhou at leftback likes to get up the field and make himself part of the attack quite often. There is space there to exploit at times, but Nouhou also has serious wheels and closes down pretty fast. Rightback Kelvin Leerdam doesn’t get as high up the pitch as Nouhou, but will still join the attack at times.

Their centerback pairing is like the odd couple: the pacey centerback from South Korea paired with the grizzled vet who’s seen it all and looks like he should be coaching his kid’s soccer on Saturdays. But don’t let that fool ya. Kim Kee-Hee, the 29-year-old from South Korea, has pace and isn’t afraid to use it. Chad Marshall has the pace of a man carrying both the piano and its player. But it’s a combo that’s worked; Seattle’s defense is in the top five of the league. Marshall is very dangerous on set pieces, and the Timbers should keep an eye on him.

As far as Seattle’s offense goes, Ruidiaz is the man up top. They no longer have to rely on Clint Dempsey or Will Bruin to get their goals. Ruidiaz is a pacey forward and good with the ball at his feet. Look for him to try to run off the shoulder of the Timbers centerback pairing; it can lead to a few offsides calls, but it’s effective.

It’ll be interesting to see who they start as part of that three in the 4-2-3-1. Against the LA Galaxy, they had Lodeiro in the middle with Christian Roldan and Harry Shipp on the flanks. This isn’t the normal three, so take out Roldan and insert Victor Rodriguez. Roldan can pretty much play anywhere on the field. He could switch positions a couple different times during the course of a match.

For the Timbers, we can’t take any more of what we’ve seen the last three weeks. Fatigue was an issue for sure and, for whatever reason, Gio decided to run the lads into the ground. Three at the back hasn’t worked out, so I’d be happy if he’d switch back to the 4-3-2-1. Tinkering in the first half of the season is okay, but by the second half you should be set. I get what he’s doing — you prepare for that specific team, going at it with a formation that fits. Sometimes this works; sometimes it doesn’t. (See D.C. United and Sporting Kansas City.)

Something tactically has to change against Seattle. We simply cannot drop points —especially at home. If the Sounders get the lead, they’re going to batten down the hatches and defend, defend, defend. The Timbers in that scenario are going to have to break down a pretty stubborn defense. We need to get more people involved on the score sheet. The Timbers cannot keep hanging their hat on just Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco, and Samuel Armenteros as the sole offense of this team.

Log Slices

There will be no Jorge Villafana or Lucas Melano according to Gio Savarese, citing that they’re not quite ready yet, though they have been having full training sessions with the first team. Melano has gotten some time with T2 as he works his way back to fitness.

The Timbers have a tell-tale stat or two if you do a bit of digging. It’s not a happy stat either, but it points to an overall problem that’s been there all season: The Timbers have allowed eight goals in minutes 31–45, and then in the 76–90th minutes they have allowed 12 goals to date. So the problem is: not closing things out. It’s in the last 15 minutes of each half that the Timbers seem to have some issues they need to address.

As far as injuries go, Jake Gleeson is basically done with the season at this point; hence the transfer of Steve Clark, who is now the Timbers number two keeper. Roy Miller is out with with a thigh injury, and Liam Ridgewell is listed as questionable.

I’ll end this by saying that the Timbers very much need the win here. If the Sounders somehow sneak out of Providence Park with all three points, they will put us below the playoff line for the first time this season.