Timbers vs. Sounders Match Preview: A rivalry game at a crossroads yet again
The Timbers head up I-5 looking for a chance to revive their season against their biggest rivals once again.
For the second time this season, the Portland Timbers will square off against their biggest rivals the Seattle Sounders (1:30 p.m. [kickoff set for 1:55 p.m.] | FOX, streaming on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV (free)). This time, the stage will be Lumen Field, when the Timbers and Sounders will kick off a Cascadia derby double-header day in Seattle.
The Timbers are desperate for points. The Sounders are desperate to turn this matchup into an actual rivalry again. Form be dammed: this should be a good one.
A look at the opposition
Since the last time these two teams met back on April, Seattle’s form has been, well, not a whole lot better than the Portland’s.
In their eight games since they lost to the Timbers in Providence Park, the Sounders have only won only three times, and have suffered defeat four times (with the customary scoreless draw against RSL thrown in). Three of those losses have been at home, and the result is that the vibes, again — similar to Portland, have started to crater for Seattle.
They still hold top spot in the Western Conference, but according to points per game their current pace is only as good as third. That’s still a decent position, but it has been decidedly buoyed by Seattle’s strong start to the season.
The recent results have been disappointing, and big reason why has been a lack of goal scoring. The Sounders have scored just five goals in league play since they last faced the Timbers, and they’ve failed to score more than once in any league game during that stretch. Jordan Morris, who started the season red hot, has gone ice cold, and Seattle’s once lethal triumvirate of forwards hasn’t been able to pick up the slack.
Plus, the Sounders are dealing with some injury bugs of their own. Key midfielder Cristian Roldan still hasn’t cleared concussion protocol, but Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer “guaranteed” that he’ll play tomorrow. If he does, it almost certainly won’t be a start and Roldan likely won’t be 100%.
Morris went down last weekend with a groin injury and will be out for an extended period, and key forward Raul Ruidiaz is still limited and will likely come off the bench, so expect some decent rotation for the hosts on Satiurday. When you add into that the fact that Saturday will be Seattle’s third game in eight days, you would think that the Sounders are very vulnerable opponents.
But then you remember that this is a rivalry game where form goes out the window, and that that counts doubly so for this particular rivalry. And you remember that the last time Seattle hosted Portland, the Timbers spoiled their big fancy CCL party. And then you remember that the Sounders haven’t beaten Portland at home in the regular season since 2017. And then you finally realize: the five paragraphs that preceded this one don’t really tell the whole story.
Seattle will be up for this, you can count on that. They will be organized and probably more than a bit pissed off, so you can bet that they don’t care about those previous paragraphs either and will be as dangerous of a foe as ever.
Timbers team news & outlook
Oh, Portland. You maddening, maddening soccer club.
This roller coaster ride of a season has continued for the Timbers, as pretty much any lingering good vibes that were present in the weeks following Portland’s last win against the Sounders took an absolute nose dive over the past two weeks, which saw Portland lose at the death at home and then lose in Kansas City in consecutive games.
The concerning thing about that pair of results (besides the scoreline) is how ineffective the Timbers looked — both with and without the ball.
Carrying the bulk of possession against Minnesota, the Timbers could only generate three shots on target, and none of them were of particularly high quality. The Timbers couldn’t figure out how to break down the Loons’ low block, and so they settled for low percentage shots and left themselves vulnerable on the counter — which is what bit them in the butt at the death.
Against Sporting the Timbers tried to play against the ball, but their own version of a defensive block was disjointed and gappy. Crucially, it was also too passive, as Portland was slow (or unwilling?) to press their opponents when SKC had the ball. Particularly in the second half it meant that Portland was too stagnant and couldn’t impose anything on the game, and it created opportunities for Sporting to go right at the Timbers defense — which was exactly how they produced their goals.
Portland’s main defensive frailties — their inability to defend well in transition, and their inefficacy to close down and defend attackers on the wings — were on display in those above highlights (lowlights?).
All of the above are areas that the Timbers will have to improve if they want to continue their recent trend of dominance over the Sounders on Saturday. And if you’re thinking “wow that sounds like they have to play an improved game for basically 90 full minutes” — you’re right! You can count the number of complete games the Timbers have played this season on one hand, and you probably don’t need all five fingers. It is essential that they turn in one this weekend against a hungry Sounders team.
The upshot is that for this particular fixture, the Timbers are up for it more often than not. You don’t need to look any further than the lead up to the last time these two teams met for evidence: Portland was struggling out of the gate, Seattle was flying high, and then bam: the Timbers pantsed the Sounders in the second half and rode their bikes away to a 4-1 win.
Will that be the case again on Saturday? It will depend on the thing that has become a bit of a buzzword over this past week: Portland’s mentality. If the players that step onto the field this weekend do so with a mentality of 90 minutes of focus, organization, and composure, the Timbers have a shot at a win. That’s especially true if Franck Boli can find the back of the net. Portland’s newest signing has been finding more and more good positions in front of goal. The next step is converting those chances into goals, as he did early on last Saturday and nearly did on several other occasions.
One player who won’t be on the field though is Yimmi Chara, who suffered yet another hamstring strain in the Sporting game and will be sidelined for multiple weeks. Noted Seattle-killer Dairon Asprilla will be looked to as a threat for Portland in Yimmi’s absence, and tomorrow would be a wonderful time for Dairon to put his disappointing 2023 form behind him and deliver. Another player who might see the field is another noted Seattle-killer, Sebastian Blanco. He still probably isn’t fit to start, but you know that if he’s healthy Seba’s playing on Saturday.
Despite Round Two of this rivalry coming at a fairly time in this season, it does feel like it’s once again coming at a pivotal moment for the Timbers. If they win, they prove that they still have Seattle’s number (which will undoubtedly make the fans happy) and give them the hope that they can still find that form that they showed in that Spring stretch to lift themselves up the table.
If they lose, then this could be real close to a breaking point for the Timbers’ 2023 season. They stand below the playoff line, and have yet to turn in any semblance of a consistent run of good form. If they don’t start to do so very soon, the hopes of Portland returning to the postseason could be dead before the first leaves even start to to fall off the trees.
Big thank you to Jeremiah Oshan of Sounder at Heart for sharing his projected lineup for Seattle!
Sounders (4-2-3-1): Frei; Nouhou, Ragen, Yeimar, Baker-Whiting; João Paulo, Rusnák; Chú, Lodeiro, Teves; Héber
Timbers (4-2-3-1): Ivacic; Bravo, McGraw, Zuparic, Mosquera; D. Chara, Paredes; Asprilla, Evander, Moreno; Boli
Again, you must throw any kind of form or recent results out of the window and into the river for this fixture. Expected goals, expected goal differential, chances created — none of that matters when the Timbers and Sounders clash.
All that matters is energy and momentum. Portland found it and capitalized on it in April. Seattle did not. Can Portland do it again on Saturday? I say yes… kind of.
I’m predicting a 2-2 draw that leaves neither team particularly happy, and kicks the can of “is Portland dead in the water?” down the road for at least another week. Boli and Moreno tally for Portland (Santi’s gotta score sometime, dammit) and Lodeiro and Rusnák score for Seattle.
It would be annoying result, I know. But hey, I predicted 2-2 last time around… and we all saw how that turned out. So I can’t wait to be proven wrong again.