Timbers vs. Sounders Match Preview: “We’ve got to give them everything that we have.”
Once again, the Timbers are seeking to make a game against Seattle a turning point to help jumpstart their season.
The lede of this preview could have been written for any number of past encounters between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders: The Timbers enter rivalry weekend in a poor run of form, standing as significant underdogs against a Sounders team that is flying high and is favored to get a win.
Portland is stuck on the mat, enduring a start to a season that has been as bad, or worse, as any that has come before it. They head into a game against their biggest rival with the odds stacked against them, and hope being at a low point.
So what better time to start to turn the season around, right?
That’s exactly what Giovanni Savarese and his team will be thinking when they take to the field to square off against the Seattle Sounders on Saturday night at Providence Park (7:39 p.m. PT, streaming on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV), where they will be seeking to turn a rivalry fixture into a turning point yet again.
A look at the opposition
Well hey, no need for me to go long on this here! We asked Sounder at Heart a few questions to help preview Seattle’s 2023 season, which you can read here:
The only thing I will add is that Seattle’s style of play scares me. The Sounders have turned into a pass-heavy, counter-pressing, lethal juggernaut. They prioritize using the ball to move opposing defenders around, and have a very clear idea of what they want to do when they have the ball, lose the ball, and win the ball back — and it all works frighteningly well.
They are as scary as they have ever been, and are playing probably as good of a soccer as they every have going into Saturday.
Timbers team news & outlook
All you need to know about how the Timbers are feeling about this game can be gleaned from one of the questions Timbers captain Diego Chara answered in the pregame press conference.
When asked what his favorite part about playing Seattle is, Chara responded with his trademark smile, and said simply: “Beating Seattle.”
Make no mistake — the Timbers are not feeling hopeless about Saturday. The vibes across the fanbase might be down, but the Timbers players and coaches are bullish.
That all starts with the team knowing the significance of the game. Chara, who has played more minutes in this rivalry than any other player, knows how big of an occasion it is, especially with Portland being the current holders of the Cascadia Cup and Seattle standing atop the Western Conference standings.
“We know how big the Cascadia Cup is for the fans, for the Timbers organization,” Chara said. “We’re two teams in different situations, right now,” he continued. “But I mean, it’s a rivalry game… It’s a special game for everyone in Portland.
“It makes it even better that they’re doing well,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said with a grin, when discussing Seattle’s form going into this game. When discussing his own team’s form, Savarese recognized how this matchup always seems to throw form out the window: “It doesn’t matter how we’ve arrived… it’s still always Seattle against Portland, so it’s huge. This is a rivalry that is not fabricated.”
Despite playing with a limited roster for most of the season due to injuries, Savarese recognizes that the team has not been getting the results they want — and that the injuries are no excuse. “Hopefully we can use this game to turn things around,” he explained with energetic intensity, as he identified this game as an opportunity for his team to start correcting that early season trend.
In their quest to do that, they will have some more healthy bodies. Cristhian Paredes and Marvin Loria are off the injury report and available for the first time since early March, who along with the recovered Dairon Asprilla, Evander, and David Ayala will add a significant boost to Portland’s midfield and winger corps.
That boost will be necessary, as despite getting healthier Portland will be without one of their most important players, as earlier this week they learned that they have lost Eryk Williamson for the season to an ACL injury.
That loss puts extra emphasis on the likes of Paredes, Ayala, and especially Evander to pick up the slack. Whomever starts in Williamson’s stead on Saturday (likely Ayala) will have big boots to fill. And Portland’s new Brazilian talisman in the midfield will be asked to show his quality and pull the strings for an offense that has sputtered out of the gates.
The Timbers’ lack of offensive output has been the story of their struggles so far. Portland have been historically bad in regards to their shot production, and have scored just once in their past three games. If they want to have any hope of making Saturday the start of a turnaround, the conversation has to start with the offensive side of the field.
Having a fitter Franck Boli may help with that. Savarese shared due to the recovery timelines for various injuries, this week was the first time all season that Boli trained in full with fellow new arrival Evander. The hero in Dallas may be in line for his first start of the year, and if he does he could finally be the offensive difference maker Portland has desperately been searching for up top.
But all of that hope is just that right now: a wish and a prayer. Portland hasn’t shown us anything yet this season to suggest they have the quality to get past the Sounders on Saturday. By all stretches of the imagination tomorrow’s game will be a rough one for the Timbers.
Despite that, Portland knows the job at hand. And they believe in their squad.
“We have a good group,” Savarese said. “I think we have a really good group that wants to succeed. They understand the importance of being in this team and wearing the shirt and what that represents.”
“Right now it’s just staying together,” Chara shared, when asked of how the group can stay united in the push for better results. “We know the only way to change the situation is by winning games.
And at the end of the day, Portland knows what they need in their attempt to get that win. '‘We need to bring that energy,” Savarese said. “We’ve got to give them everything that we have.”
Portland (4-2-3-1): Ivacic; Mosquera, McGraw, Zuparic, Bravo; Chara, Ayala; Moreno, Evander, Asprilla; Boli
Seattle (4-2-3-1): Frei; A. Roldan, Yeimar, Ragen, Nouhou; Paulo, Rusnak; C. Roldan, Lodeiro, Chu; Morris
96.5% of my being is telling me to prepare for disappointment tomorrow. Seattle is the class of the league, and Portland is, well, not that. Almost every part of my body is telling me to brace for a multigoal loss where Portland doesn’t even score.
And yet… there’s still that 3.5%.
This rivalry has been defined by form meaning nothing, chaos reigning, and the unexpected happening multiple times per game. The narrative is shaping itself up perfectly for Portland to buck narratives and pull off a surprising win. They’ve done it before, and that plus the energy of Savarese and the squad has kept that faint glimmer of hope alive in me.
And so… I’m predicting a 2-2 draw. Evander and Boli score for Portland, and Jordan Morris nabs a brace. I can’t wait to be proven wrong.