Previewing Portland - Underdog status isn't Fair

Yes, the Sounders are the MLS side. Yes, the Timbers are the Timbers. Sure, you could look at this one as a gift, even going on the road. You could take this match lightly, you would also be wrong. While Portland might be Seattle's little brother in so many ways, this match sees the side that is playing better hosting. And yes their 5-5-4 is better than the Sounders.

This isn't the time for Seattle's MLS team, nor its fans to be cocky. Already two MLS teams have fallen to USL-2 teams (Lamar Neagle's Battery beat the Fire and the Harrisburg City Islanders beat Red Bull). But the Sounders are keen to retain the major trophy that is the easiest to capture in the USA.

To do so they just have to beat a team of MLS castoffs that's getting ready for their inaugural MLS season in front of a sellout crowd and on regional TV (FSN). Castoffs, though, may be too strong a word.

Portland, like Sounders 2.0, is stacked with talent that is at MLS replacement level.

Ryan Pore - Sure, he had a trial with Sounders FC and didn't fare too well. And while I'm not crazy enough to compare him to Gerrard, the fact is that Pore is leading his league in Goals, in Points and is tied for 7th in Assists. At some point, regardless of previous failures to succeed in MLS, a player must be respected for his accomplishments, even if playing for a team so many just call the "Scum."

Ian Joy - He is the Timbers Captain, but he's also a former member of Real Salt Lake and so I asked Denz about him.

Some might describe Ian as a journeyman defender, he has applied his trade in Scotland, England, Germany and the US, in 2009 he started the season with Real Salt Lake but an injury in the final preseason match ended his season.  Both sides agreed to Ian leaving the club in late June of 2009, he spent the rest of the year with FC Ingolstadt 04 in Germany, but after their season he looked to return to the US.  The 29 year old is a quality player and it didn't take long for the Portland Timbers to take advantage of MLS teams hesitating, they signed Ian and he quickly established himself not only as one of their starting 11, but as the captain and onfield leader of the team.  You have to believe that Portland plan on keeping a player like Ian as the make the move to MLS in 2011.  Ian is a great asset for any team as he is a player who truly enjoys the beautiful game and appreciates the fans, in fact when out with his injury in 2009 you could on occasion see Ian spending matches in the stands with the supporter groups, it is that type of attitude with his gritty playing style that has made him a fan favorite no matter where he plays.

Alex Nimo - On loan from RSL to the Timbers

A young player who escaped the war torn Liberia with his family and settled in Portland, he may have learned to play soccer in a refugee camp but he was quickly identified as a talent by FC Portland's coach Clive Charles.  He has gone on to play with the U-17 and U-20 US National teams, he was selected in the second round of the 2008 MLS draft.  Being so young the RSL staff knew he would be a project but they were impressed with his skill set, to help him develop he has been loaned to the Portland Timbers of the USL for the last two seasons.  He has worked his way from a part time starter in 2009, to a normal part of the Timbers starting 11 so far this year.  Still only 20 years old, the 5'5" midfielder will have plenty of time to continue his development and has the potential to become a everyday player either for Real Salt Lake or maybe the 2011 Portland Timbers as they join the MLS.

Two other players had experience with DC United and likely will see time, Black and Red United with this report.

Quavas Kirk was popular in DC, mostly because of his personality and his nickname (Q-Nasty). He was a bit of a fan favorite for the same reasons that a backup quarterback is always a fan favorite on a losing football team. Fast and athletically gifted, but never had enough skill to be more than an emergency reserve. Kirk sat a couple spots behind Rod Dyachenko on our roster, which is a damning indictment.

Steve Cronin was part of the reason why United came within one point of the playoffs in 2009. He was the USL goalkeeper of the year, and was acquired on loan by United after Josh Wicks went out injured and because the team didn't trust rookie Milos Kocic when everything was on the line. He's a competent organizer and a good shot stopper. Cronin would be somewhere near the middle of the pack of starting MLS goalies.

Most MLS teams trot out lineups of Reservists and Substitutes in the Third Round. For the Timbers those MLS Reservists and Subs are their Starters and Rotationals, used to playing together every day.

Of course, in the end it is Portland, and this is Seattle. It is the fiercest rivalry in North American Soccer, and this is the one match where they will meet this year. This game matters. It won't come down to quirky uniforms, and the talent is likely to be roughly even.

It's likely to come down to coaching, a place where up to a month ago I would have said Seattle has clear advantage.

Watch Party and Seattle SBN Meet-Up Tonight at Rock Bottom Seattle 5pm until the game is over and the Timbers fall.

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