Really, I could the end preview there. The above statement fully encapsulates the stakes for tonight’s match. The next edition of the greatest rivalry in American soccer is not just for regional bragging rights this time: it holds important weight for two teams that find themselves mired in a battle for the final few playoff positions in the Western Conference. It is not too much of a stretch to claim that tonight is entering “must-win” territory for both teams, based on their situations.
Here’s your primer for when the Portland Timbers (7-8-12, 33 points) host the Seattle Sounders (10-13-3, 33 points).
A look at the opposition
For the first time in a good long while, Portland vs. Seattle comes at a time when neither team is above the playoff line. Seattle has been in one of the poorest veins of form in their MLS existence, and it has caused them to be playing catch-up to the rest of the pack in the West.
Seattle has only won twice in their last nine games, and haven’t been able to fully pull out of their mini post Concacaf Champions League funk they fell into back in the Spring. Having played essentially all of the games in hand they accrued during their CCL run, they currently are outside the playoff picture with eight games remaining.
However, there are signs that the Sounders are starting to find some of their usual form. In recent weeks they put in improved performances against the likes of Atlanta and LAFC, showing signs of an increased urgency. It’s coincided with the return of star forward Raul Ruidiaz to full fitness, as well as the likes of Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris starting to find more sustained improvements in form.
The result of that was on display last week, when they had a roller coaster of a game against the Galaxy. Seattle fell two goals down, roared back to take a lead, and then conceded a penalty in the dying minutes to settle for a draw.
Their quest to turn that game into a positive moment will have to be done without a key player however, as Christian Roldan is set for a spell on the sidelines as he recovers from surgery. He will be unavailable for tonight, giving Seattle some questions to answer in the middle of the field.
Timbers team news & outlook (and quotes)
As someone who is well acquainted with this rivalry and the stakes, Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese understands what tonight is. “This is a huge game,” he shared in his pre-game media availability. “A match that we know that it always doesn’t matter, you know, if we’re on top or we’re on the bottom. This is a huge game for me— the biggest rivalry in in MLS. So this never, never disappoints.”
His side is also fully healthy, save for the continued absence of Nathan Fogaca, and Savarese is optimistic that some of the players returning from injuries (Eryk Williamson and Cristhian Paredes in particular) are set to have a stronger influence on the game.
They will need to be, as Portland is desperate for an improvement in their goal scoring form. The boots have gone cold, and to combat a team like Seattle the Timbers will need to find the net, likely multiple times, in order to emerge victorious.
Should Portland emerge victorious (or even with a draw, if you’ve hit the bargaining stage), they will hoist a piece of silverware that they haven’t won since 2017: the Cascadia Cup. Portland can clinch it with a win or a draw, and achieve regional bragging rights in a way that they haven’t enjoyed for some time.
Savarese understands the significance of what winning that trophy would mean— both for the fans in this rivalry and for his players in. “We want to win everything that we can,” he shared. “Especially the Cascadia Cup, being a cup that is for the fans, for bragging rights. So I want us to be able to achieve that as a group to make our our fans proud.”
This one means more.— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) August 25, 2022
Catch all of what Gio had to say ahead of Friday's massive matchup:
Savarese also talked about “changing the narrative” for this game— which is arguably as important for Portland as any piece of silverware tonight. The narrative of Portland’s 2022 season has been that of inconsistency and sputtering starts: an encouraging start to the season followed by a slump, a strong start to the Summer followed by a loss in momentum, and a run up the table stymied by a string of bad results.
Portland has the chance to correct some of that narrative this evening. A win against Seattle, while not sufficient to fully revive the playoff charge, is a big step in the right direction. With the odds stacked against the Timbers for making the postseason, three points tonight is crucial for Portland proving their playoff bonafides.
It would also help change the narrative of this particular fixture. Portland vs. Seattle has been defined by the away team winning at the other team’s stadium, as Sounders fans will surely remember well from the last time these two teams played. Timbers fans will of course also remember the last time Seattle came to town (we don’t need to talk about it), so flipping that narrative is on the table as well.
The Timbers haven’t beaten Seattle at Providence Park in front of live fans in the regular season since the first “Chucky game” back in 2018. Doing so tonight would not only net them the Cascadia Cup for the first time in five years, but could also help to turn the tide of this tumultuous season.
Now then— can they do it? The Timbers possess enough talent to be competitive with most teams in this league, and so especially against this Seattle team in poor form the Timbers should be able to pull out a victory.
The real question is “will they”? Portland has been consistently inconsistent this year, and it has been a while since they have put on a complete performance in a game. Extra motivation for a rivalry game or not, Portland needs to show up and turn in 90 minutes of focus if they want to stand a chance at three points.
So for tonight, I’m going to guess that they are up for it— but only partially. I predict a 2-2 draw, with Blanco and Ruidiaz trading braces. The Timbers score last, lifting some spirits and resulting in them still raising the Cascadia Cup. But it still isn’t enough to raise them significantly in the standings, as Portland will remain below the playoff line— still with few indications they will rise higher than that.