No tricks, no games and most importantly, no poems. This weekend the Timbers and Sounders play for the final time in the regular season so we asked Dave Clark of Sounder at Heart some pretty straightforward questions. Here are his answers and below, my answers to his questions:
1. Since beating Portland in the Open Cup and league in mid-July, the Sounders have only won once, and that came against the awful Houston Dyanmo. Why?
Tired, broken, poor form, tactical naivety - you can probably pick the reason and be right. As is typical in MLS teams go through slumps. Even teams that win the Shield go through slumps. Seattle is in a poor stretch, but 16 of the 18 other teams have slumps as significant on the season. What specifically is causing this issue? Chad Marshall missed a couple games after getting in a minor car accident. A day later he sneezed, his back spasmed and the defense turned into a woeful thing.
Looking at the lineup changes in the last five matches there were three different CB pairings, three different forward pairings, three different left backs. While there are only 15 different players used in the stretch (fairly typical in MLS) the club has had to use Jalil Anibaba, Brad Evans and Kenny Cooper in less than ideal roles. Throw in a tired Clint Dempsey and slightly suspended Obafemi Martins and magical things disappeared.
They could break out of the slump at any moment.
2. Clint Dempsey and Brad Evans played just 19 and 12 minutes against San Jose Earthquakes, respectively. Was that rest ahead of the Timbers game or unrelated to this weekend's game?
Evans had a minor injury that removed him from the RSL match at half. The ideal would have been a whooping on San Jose that didn't need Brad's ability to get wide and still defend centrally. Except Sigi Schmid needed Brad's skills, so he came on and didn't get a full recovery. Dempsey said after the match that he's a bit tired. The goal with him was just rest. The Sounders couldn't earn Clint that in a match that should have gone their way. It's the time of squad rotation for most MLS sides. Sometimes that plan gets thrown away when three points are about to jump of the yacht.
3. Beyond the Cascadia Cup, is this game at a particularly important part of the season for Seattle, or is that just the narrative at this point?
There will be an intense fan freakout after drawing San Jose Earthquakes. That draw put Seattle in first place in the Shield and the West. Some highlights of the strong disappointment indicate fans that expect at least two goals scored a game over the length of the season (an MLS record!), that Adrian Hanauer should be fired for not signing a new CB in the transfer window, that Schmid should be fired because he's out of ideas. Again, the team is in first. The Supporters Shield is a very real possibility. Losing the Cascadia Cup would blow, but the panic that would ensue with a loss to Portland to push the slump to eight games would make a fanbase of a team that is still a favorite to win MLS silverware downright crazed. Yeah?
Stefan Frei; Leo Gonzalez, Zach Scott, Chad Marshall, DeAndre Yedlin; Marco Pappa, Gonzalo Pineda, Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans; Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins
Was it really a good idea to pre-sell CCL tickets for next year?
Including CCL tickets as part of the season ticket packages is a brilliant idea. They are games that matter, why flush 50% of the fanbase down the toilet? Instead get 38,000+ at the stadium and use the earned home-field advantage. The timing is odd due to the structure of the CCL, but Seattle still has a strong chance at the CCL through all four methods of entry. Seattle entered this week with an 80% chance at making the CCL. That's a pretty good bet to make in order to help the club win games in a tournament where they've done pretty well.
1. So 10,000 miles for a CCL win. How will that mess with Sunday?
The good news for Portland is that the timing of the Timbers' first Champions League game was just about perfect. Not only did CONCACAF schedule the trip to Guyana just after Portland was already scheduled to be on the east coast (at New England Revolution), the team is just about as healthy as its been all year. That allowed Caleb Porter to take 28 players to New England but only 18 to Georgetown midweek. Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, Gaston Fernandez, Donovan Ricketts, Will Johnson, Diego Chara, Liam Ridgewell, Michael Harrington - all of those guys have been back in Portland since Sunday. There will definitely be some fatigue for guys who played against Alpha United - Rodney Wallace, Fanendo Adi, Maximiliano Urruti, Jack Jewsbury - but for the most part the 'second team' group will not be playing on Sunday against the Sounders. The biggest impact then will probably be felt at forward as both Adi and Urruti traveled and played in Guyana and the Timbers do not have any other forwards. But for most of Sunday's starters, it's actually a long week with the previous league game coming on Saturday in Foxborough.
2. Talk to me about Liam Ridgewell like I don't know who he is (this should be easy, I don't know who he is).
"Liam Matthew Ridgewell (born 21 July 1984) is an English footballer who plays for the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer as a defender. He is primarily a centre half but can also play at left back."
Ok now that you've read up on him via Wikipedia, you'll know Ridgewell spent the better part of ten years in the West Midlands playing primarily in the Premier League with Aston Villa, Birmingham City (where he was captain) and West Bromwich Albion. For Portland he's a center back and arguably the most important signing of 2014 given the shambles that were the back line for so much of the season before his arrival. While the Timbers aren't suddenly the best defensive team in the league, Ridgewell gives the team a much needed backbone and leader in front of Donovan Ricketts. His distribution is better than any center back the Timbers have ever had in MLS and he's dangerous on set pieces and as he showed against the Revolution, occasionally with the ball at his feet. He keeps the other three defenders in line, both figuratively and literally, and seems to already love living in the Northwest.
3. There's a lot of talk about Caleb Porter as the coach, but is there a key assistant that deserves more attention?
That's a really interesting question (and since this is written and not spoken, that's not just so I can buy some time to figure out how to answer something I know little about). The coaching situation in Portland is very bizarre because all of the current assistant coaches were actually hired before Porter's hiring in August 2012. I don't think anyone would argue with having Mike Toshack on staff as he's been a successful goalkeeping coach in MLS prior to his arrival in Portland in 2012. Otherwise, the cast is small and pretty unknown. Cameron Knowles previously played as a defender for the USL Timbers (after a very brief stint with Real Salt Lake) and Sean McAuley was brought back to Portland from England in the summer of 2012. McAuley is probably the answer to this question, though his road back to Portland is pretty interesting. Manchester United youth player who ended up playing with a bunch of lower league teams before joining the USL Timbers in 2002. He spent most of the 2000s running Sheffield Wednesday's academy and twice (in 2006 and 2009) stepped in as caretaker manager. Gavin Wilkinson, his former teammate at the Timbers, brought McAuley in to help finish out the 2012 season after John Spencer's firing and he has remained on the staff ever since. McAuley is the best guy to watch at training though his focus is often with younger players, especially those who do not really play with the first team. That's changed some this year with more of those kinds of players spending time on loan at Sacramento Republic, Arizona United and Orange County Blues. But on a pretty small coaching staff, especially since Amos Magee left for DC United in the offseason, McAuley is the closest thing Porter has to a no. 2.
Donovan Ricketts; Michael Harrington, Liam Ridgewell, Norberto Paparatto, Danny O'Rourke; Will Johnson, Diego Chara; Gaston Fernandez, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri; Fanendo Adi
Favorite food at Providence:
Best food at Providence Park is the beer, to be honest. But for real food, whenever the 808 Grinds food cart is featured at the stadium, that's the best. It's Hawaiian food and the Kalua Pig is outstanding. But more importantly, how many stadiums have a food vendor that sells spam?