Tonight, the Portland Timbers will travel up north to take on the rival Seattle Sounders. It’ll of course have the usual tension that comes with a rivalry game, but this one means a little more since the winner gets the top spot in the MLS Western Conference standings.
In preparation of this game, I talked with Mark Kastner of Sounder at Heart about three things to keep an eye on for this season and beyond. You can read my answers to the questions Mark asked me here.
KG: The Sounders had a similar week to Portland last week. After winning three games in a row, they dropped a match to LAFC and tied San Jose. What was different in those games compared to the ones during the winning streak?
MK: The Sounders have struggled a bit with injuries and international call ups, basically. Seattle has a very deep squad but when 4-5 first XI players are missing because of uncontrollable circumstances, it puts a strain on the whole team. I still think the team is good and nothing has gone off the rails, but with the condensed schedule, the Sounders are looking really tired.
KG: The Sounders have some of the best offensive weapons in MLS with Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro. Last time these two teams played, however, Portland was able to get the win 1-0. Did Portland do anything in particular that you saw that effectively stopped Seattle’s offense, or was it just a rare bad match?
MK: The way Portland plays is the perfect way to shut down Seattle. The Sounders have always struggled with breaking down a team that bunkers, especially ones that are so lethal on the counter attack like the Timbers are. The last match in Portland was also frustrating because of the injury to Joevin Jones early in the second half. If the Sounders were going to score in that game, it was going to because of Jones’ creativity and...well...he got hurt.
Since then, the Sounders have come up against a few teams that have tried to play a similar style as Portland but Seattle has coped with it well. I’m excited to see if the Sounders are up to the task on Thursday night.
KG: You mentioned in your questions to me that you’ve been bugging everyone by asking them what constitutes a “good” season for their club. So I want to ask the same of you. What would qualify as a good season for the Seattle Sounders?
MK: I think at this point it’d be really disappointing if the Sounders didn’t finish top in the Western Conference. Winning the Supporters Shield* is probably just out of reach, but they had been in contention for a while. Beyond that, I think the Sounders can and should make a deep run in the playoffs. I can’t predict anything, especially in 2020, but I think this team is capable of lifting a 2nd straight MLS Cup. Before your readers screenshot this and save it for future ammo, I’m not saying that it’s nailed on that they’ll win, I just think this team is good enough to accomplish that.
(*Or whatever it is the regular season champ gets this year)