After a 5-0 trouncing of FC Dallas Wednesday, the Sounders travel to Providence Park, lair of their most intense rival, to face the Portland Timbers Sunday (12 p.m., FOX). The match will be the first meeting of the teams in competitive play since the Timbers won the MLS Cup last season.
Coach Sigi Schmid said that the failure to beat Portland to an MLS Cup, the one trophy that has eluded Schmid during his time in Seattle, would not play a role in the match.
“It’s the same,” Schmid said Thursday. “I know they’re excited about that. I still think they have some trophies to go to catch us. Obviously the MLS Cup is considered the biggest trophy, but it’s a tournament. Anybody can win a tournament.”
Schmid pointed out that the four U.S. Open Cup trophies that make up the bulk of Seattle’s silverware is also a tournament.
Despite Schmid’s efforts to distance the match from the humiliation of watching from the couch as the Timbers beat Seattle to the league’s highest prize can only do so much. Sunday could become another memorable installment in the rivalry, already pickled with close contests and matches changing the course of a club’s season.
Last year, a game against Portland sent Seattle into a tailspin that nearly kept it out of the playoffs for the first time in club history. A mid-June meeting in the fourth round of the Open Cup saw Seattle lose 3-1, and Clint Dempsey lose his mind as he tore up the referee’s notebook to earn the third ejection of the game for the Sounders.
Dempsey won’t have to worry about getting ejected Sunday. The 33-year-old forward managed that Wednesday night against FC Dallas and will be suspended.
Absent their marquee star, the Sounders will need to get creative to try and keep Wednesday’s momentum against a team unbeaten in its last eight matches. The mental preparedness of rookie forward Jordan Morris, Seattle’s leading scorer, will be crucial as the 21-year-old heads into the most hostile environment of his career.
For the Timbers, injuries to starting keeper Adam Kwarasey and forward Darren Mattocks will blunt Portland’s effectiveness. Midfielder Diego Valeri, recovering from a sprained ankle, is hoping to take the pitch, but remains questionable.
Schmid said Valeri’s presence would be a game-changer.
“Their team is different when Valeri plays or doesn’t,” he said. “That’s a key factor. They’ve still got other quality players, and we’ve got to make sure we do a good job with them.
“We’ve got to put them under pressure when they have the ball and make it difficult for them to get out of the back, and we’ve got to make sure (Darlington) Nagbe doesn’t get a chance to run at us with the ball.”
A win on the road against a rival could do a world of good for Seattle’s confidence, but another result such as last year’s Open Cup will make for an uncomfortable commute home on I-5.
Listen to Andrew Harvey on Prost Amerika’s Radio Cascadia podcast featuring analysis of the Sounders, Whitecaps and Timbers