Know your foe: Three Questions with Sounder at Heart
We chatted with our friends at Sounder at Heart to preview the opposing side of Saturday's rivalry match.
Saturday, the greatest rivalry in MLS begins anew. The Portland Timbers host the Seattle Sounders at Providence Park at 7:30 p.m. PT (streaming on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV) for their first of three clashes in the 2023 edition of the Cascadia derby.
To help preview what that team from up north has been up to, Stumptown Footy visited our old home at SB Nation and and chatted with friends at Sounder at Heart to get a preview of the Seattle Sounders 2023 season.
We sat down with them answered a few of their questions, so head here if you want read the flip side.
Tim Foss was kind enough to sit down and answer Three Questions about the Sounders:
Stumptown Footy: The Sounders seem to have taken missing the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time personally – because they have been on an absolute tear in 2023. What are the biggest reasons that have led to the turnaround?
Sounder at Heart: I think everyone in the organization took last season personally, and it’s resulted in taking the lessons from that first failure to heart. It could easily have just been lip-service, but it seems like the team, catalyzed by the need to hit the ground running for the Club World Cup, came into 2023 highly motivated and instituted a slight tactical tweak to try to get their best attackers into places where they can hurt the opponent more often. They’re breaking lines from deep with a dribble or pass from the centerbacks and giving Nico Lodeiro and the rest of the midfield more freedom to hit through balls, all with the added layer of protection afforded by a pretty useful counter-press. It’s powered them to some pretty lopsided wins and helped Jordan Morris and Léo Chú produce at a level few other MLS players are reaching so far this season.
Add to that the fact that João Paulo is back and playing well, Jordan Morris and Nico Lodeiro are both playing like their best selves again, and Josh Atencio and Jackson Ragen have both taken steps forward and you’ve got a lot of the reasons for Seattle’s early success.
STF: How is Seattle managing all of their forwards? Jordan Morris is leading the Golden Boot race, Héber has been effective, and Raul Ruidíaz is Raul Ruidíaz. How is Brian Schmetzer balancing keeping everyone happy and putting the team in the best position to win?
SaH: I want to say “well,” but frankly he’s mostly not had to do a ton of managing in that sense up until now. Héber had two goals in the opening two games while Raul Ruidíaz was out with an injury. Then Héber picked up an injury as Ruidíaz returned, and the newest Sounders forward remained out when Ruidíaz was called up by Peru. That’s how Brian Schmetzer ended up starting Jordan Morris as the 9 with Léo Chú out wide. The St. Louis game was the first time there’d really been juggling to do, and with Ruidíaz still working his way back to fitness and form it made sense for the coach to stick what had been working. He swapped Ruidíaz for Chu in a planned sub in the 60th minute, and a few minutes later Ruidíaz had his first goal of the season.
I think that’s going to be pretty indicative of how the management will go forward. Sometimes fate will handle it for the team, as players inevitably miss time for one reason or another. There’s ultimately just not going to be that much of the season where everyone is healthy, available and playing great. In the games where that’s the case I expect to see more scheduled subs, and lineups fitted more precisely to what the opponent offers. Based on what Schmetzer has said, at least right now it doesn’t seem like there’s any real worry about keeping everyone happy as long as the team’s winning.
STF: Portland vs. Seattle is always spicy, but does Portland’s success in the Cascadia Cup last year give this one as little bit more juice from Seattle’s perspective?
SaH: Oh, absolutely. Getting swept by your biggest rival is always going to hurt. Add finishing below them and missing the playoffs, and make that first loss to your rival a 3-0 beatdown at home when you unveil the banner for your club’s biggest achievement, and that juice is about as potent as it’s ever going to get. The fact that the two side come into the game on very different trajectories so far this season has to have Seattle primed to make up for a down year, and I’m sure that will be equally met by a Timbers team with the perfect moment to start their season’s turnaround.