Sunday’s doubleheader for the Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns is a huge occasion — and the stakes for the games are just as huge. For the Thorns, it’s a chance to truly stamp themselves as the top team in NWSL and extend their lead at the top of the table, all by defeating their biggest rivals, OL Reign.
For the Timbers ... Well, their 2021 season is careening towards a cliff, and they are in desperate need to turn it around as soon as they can. Sunday’s rematch against the Seattle Sounders will give them their soonest and most pivotal chance to do so.
It’s a big game, and there are big questions to be answered. I took a moment to chat with Dave Clark of Sounder at Heart about what to expect from Sunday, from the perspective of the Reign and Sounders. (You can also read my answers to Dave’s questions here.)
STF: The doubleheader is being hyped a lot up in Seattle. What’s the energy like for both games, and particularly what’s the energy like around the Reign, who will be playing an NWSL game at Lumen Field for the first time in their history?
SaH: There’s simultaneous excitement and disappointment. Reign coming back to the bigger city is great and so is a doubleheader, but there’s concern because of the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic and the length of time commitment from a fan who wants to do everything. Going to the stadium for about seven hours is quite a bit more than soccer fans are used to doing. Still, this will be the largest crowd in NWSL history. It is likely that more people will see live Reign soccer on Sunday than every other full season except 2019, their first in Tacoma.
As a former Reign employee and current fan this is exciting stuff. But it must only be the start, not a one-off with no tail.
STF: The Sounders have the best road record in MLS, but are winless in their last three home league games. What do you think’s been the cause for the recent downturn?
SaH: Yes, it’s a cliché, but injuries and some more injuries and then other injuries. There was a miraculous win in Austin that kind of papered over the personnel that were missing for that home stand. Seattle had four extreme hardship signings for a single match. Three different players have used up their potential to be extreme hardship signings by appearing at least twice. That’s a wave of injury that MLS teams don’t see often. Now that the Sounders are down to just three injured players, they are playing better. Turns out returning an MLS Best XI/MVP candidate and a Defender of the Year candidate solves a lot of problems. There’s a chance that Sunday’s game has just two injuries — Jordan Morris and Jordy Delem.
STF: For a team that has fielded a wide range of players this season, who is Seattle’s most important player at the moment, and why?
SaH: Cristian Roldan is the most important player to maintain the goodness of the squad. He’s able to play everywhere effectively and is undefeated in matches in which he takes the pitch. For the Sounders to be a Shield and Cup contender, it’s Nicolás Lodeiro. João Paulo and Cristian can make the midfield buzz, but Nico makes it sing. He’s an amplifier of talent like so few in the league’s history. With him back, Seattle should expect a strong run towards the playoffs.