By Steven Agen
With a 1-1 draw in Vancouver on Wednesday, the Seattle Sounders set a club-record ten match unbeaten streak and moved into sole possession of first place in the Western Conference. In most scenarios featuring the aforementioned highlights it would be safe to assume that the team would be upbeat and feeling good about said accomplishments. Had you seen the visitors’ locker room at BC Place after the match, you’d have hardly guessed Seattle were above the red line. Such was the frustration after 38 open play crosses and nearly half an hour with a man advantage failed to translate into a derby victory.
Head coach Brian Schmetzer stated after that match that not seeing his side score from the run of play in either of their last two matches wasn’t a concern — they’d created plenty of chances, both against Minnesota United last Sunday and against the Whitecaps. He also admitted that a touch of adversity for the high-flying Sounders might be a good thing before their postseason run. Schmetzer’s frustration with the result was as visible as his players’ but Wednesday night’s disappointment did yield one more tactical advantage for the Seattle boss.
Roman Torres, Osvaldo Alonso and Clint Dempsey were all held out of the starting lineup and Jordan Morris subbed out of the match after 68 minutes, leaving all rested and available to start in Sunday’s crucial #1 vs. #2 Cascadia derby against the Portland Timbers. Three of the four players in that talented group play centrally, down the spine of the team.
It’s exactly where Portland, who managed to take three points against the lowly Colorado Rapids at Providence Park on Wednesday, are hurting. Jake Gleeson, Liam Ridgewell, David Guzman and Fanendo Adi will all miss out on the trip north due to various injuries and yellow card accumulation. Larrys Mabiala sat the midweek match out because of a red card suspension and will return to central defense on Sunday, but few other reinforcements are there make up for the key absences.
A win for Seattle in the 85th competitive match between sides called Sounders and Timbers would put them in position to take the Cascadia Cup with a win over Vancouver on September 27th, as well as push them four points clear at top of the Western Conference. Given Sounders’ overwhelming record in matches with the upper decks open at CenturyLink Field, as they will be for this derby, and Timbers’ lack of an MLS regular season victory in Seattle, the safe bet is for the conference leaders to hold serve at home.
Portland’s opportunity to seemingly overcome the odds stems from the backs-against-the-wall mentality that saw them win 2-1 in Vancouver in their last Cascadia derby. Forced to loan in players from Timbers 2 due to injuries and international duty, Timbers took one of the biggest upsets in recent derby history by downing the heavily favored Whitecaps. Rookie Jeremy Ebobisse led the charge that day, and may have the chance to do so again on Sunday if Timbers manager Caleb Porter opts for him in their sole forward spot over Darren Mattocks. The pace of either can trouble Sounders’ stout-but-not-terribly-mobile center backs, particularly on the counter. Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco and Darlington Nagbe (fresh off a stunning game-winning goal) all provide a huge threat regardless of the fact that they’ll be on four days’ rest.
Three prior meetings this season have yielded two wins and a draw for Sounders, including advancement in the US Open Cup. It’s been four years since Seattle and Portland have met as the top two sides in the conference this late into the season — all circumstances aside, Sunday night’s derby stands out as the one we’ll remember from the 2017 regular season.
Sounders 3, Timbers 1
Dempsey (Lodeiro) 17′
Rodriguez (Lodeiro) 67′
Valeri (PK) 84′