The (first) big match is here! The Portland Timbers play the Seattle Sounders for the first time in 2021 today, and it should be a fun one to say the least.
Ahead of the match, Stumptown Footy and Sounder at Heart got together to talk about what to expect in this one. Here are three questions with Dave Clark of Sounder at Heart.
For the companion piece up at Sounder at Heart, click here.
SF: There was some talk in the preseason about the Sounders not quite reaching the heights they have before this season. With their strong start, what has stood out so far about how this Sounders squad plays, and are they for real?
SaH: There are still questions about depth. In a season crowded due to the pandemic-forced schedule and with barely overlapping international tournaments in June and July the non-starting guys are going to have to perform against their contemporaries around MLS. Those are also questions that cannot be answered until they are asked. Just because a player does well in a 20-minute hit late game doesn’t mean they’re ready for 75.
Outside of that Seattle looks real. Against the West’s best Brian Schmetzer’s team looks complete. The 3-5-2 is working to perfection. Young players are contributing. The studs along the spine look to still be in prime condition. Despite losing Morris, Svensson, Leerdam and some other guys the Sounders look like a team capable of making trip five to the Cup.
SF: Raul Ruidiaz and Fredy Montero both give me nightmares. How have they looked so far to start the season and how worried should the Timbers – a team who has struggled defensively – be about those two?
SaH: The good news for Portland is that Montero is likely just a sub. He’s coming off an injury, and so likely only capable of 20 or so minutes. The bad news for Portland is that in Montero’s 17 minutes of play this season he looked as good as every, creating massive switches and that powerful scoring foot still works. If he enters he can play as one of the two forwards, or in the WF/10 of a 3-4-2-1.
Ruidíaz should be expected to challenge for the Golden Boot this year, unless he misses a bunch of time with Peru (he almost certainly will). Raul is one of the most efficient strikers the league’s seen. He can go 30 minutes without a touch in the final third and still punish a squad. Though his headers haven’t scored yet this season, he remains an enticing target despite his size. He’s too good at slipping into empty spaces.
SF: Soccer is incredibly fun when you can identify the 1v1 matchups that will define a game. Are they any specific player matchups that you are looking forward to seeing unfold on Sunday?
SaH: I’m hungry for what could be Yimmi Chará versus Nouhou. Now that Nouhou’s sole focus is on defense he’s rapidly in the running to be the Chad Marshall Defender of the Year. His victims so far include Ethan Finlay, Robin Lod, LAFC’s boring attackers, Chicharito, and various subs. As the league’s best shielder of the ball he prevents passes over the top from ever getting chased down by the opposing side.
When forced to go one-on-one with Nouhou many players get caught up in fascination with his unconventional footwork. By the time they’ve reset their brain Nouhou no longer has the ball that he’s won — it’s off in transition. As you mentioned in the pod, Yimmi is a swingy player. I want him at his best just to see that contest.