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A chat with StumptownFooty to prepare for Sunday's evening match between the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers.
Portland Timbers FC is a bad road team. There is no denying it. In 2012 they've given up more than two goals a match on the road. In 2011 they were
0-12-5 2-9-6, at this point they are 0-11-4. Those struggles have occurred in small stadiums and large. But this is also the only match they've ever played where if they win they capture a Cup. Yes, it is only the Cascadia Cup, but if all you can get is a rivalry cup, that's what you try to win.
The Seattle Sounders will be powered by a crowd approaching maximum capacity at CenturyLink Field. In regular season matches over 40,000 they are 3-0-1. On national television (this match is on ESPN at 6PM) the Rave Green are 9-2-3 with a +10 goal differential.
It is a regional battle, so those numbers mean even less than usual. Guiding us through Three Questions (there are more than three) is Geoff from StumptownFooty.
SaH: There is no team with as poor a road record as the Timbers. Will this mean they bunker and win the Cascadia Cup with a draw?
STF: The Portland Timbers strategy going into an away game at Seattle will likely mirror most of their other away games against heavily offensive opponents: bunker and counter. My guess is that it will be a similar scenario as with what we saw recently against the San Jose Earthquakes where the Portland Timbers were able to keep their lead and go up twice due to some strategic countering and a relaxed defense by San Jose.
What makes it a little more interesting, however, is that this is a Cascadia Cup match and I think we can all agree that Cascadian rivalry games are anything but normal or routine so it will certainly be interesting to see how the match plays out and what kind of mentality the Timbers come out with.
SaH: Portland uses set-plays successfully against Seattle. Will forcing a stop & go style of play help them against the Sounders?
STF: Absolutely. I think any team that can successfully enforce a stop and go style of play against Seattle will have a fair amount of success. From what I've seen in the Timbers games so far this year, Seattle prefers to build from the back and orchestrate an attack all the way through. If the Timbers can stop them using strategic fouls or by earning free kicks here and there it would certainly help in the long run. Also, Seattle needs to win this match. The Timbers don't. The onus is on Seattle, the Timbers just have to slow them down.
SaH: What are the strengths of a Danso/Horst CB pairing?
STF: A little hard to say right now as Futty hasn't had too much playing time this year, or at least not in the last few months. Futty is a big strong center back though. Unfortunately, he's also a bit like David Horst in that they like to run the ball up and play a little more offensively than either should. This can create problems especially in the case of speedy forwards.
SaH: Dike has solidified a role as a lone forward up top. How's he developing as a regular starter in MLS?
STF: Solidified might be a bit of a stretch, but he's definitely gotten himself back into the picture after coming into 2013 as a virtual blip on John Spencer's radar.
Dike's developmental leap came after he returned from being on loan to the LA Blues and I think it's something that MLS head coaches around the country should take note of. Dike went down to Los Angeles and became a goal scoring machine for the USL Pro side. While he may have been playing against less skilled defenders/midfielders the fact remains that he was scoring. If a striker doesn't get that sort of feel for hitting the back of the net, even against lower division sides, then it can hurt his game. Dike's been a changed player since returning and I hope the Timbers use that relationship with the Blues to get more players meaningful minutes.
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STF: With a disappointing draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps last weekend, it seems like the Sounders have hamstrung themselves in this regional tournament. What's the general feeling among the Seattle fans with regards to their current predicament?
SaH: Portland's poor road record gives the fanbase confidence. It's not a way you want to be confident in winning a rivalry cup, but in this case it's a definite reason that the Sounders can take this. There is also a feeling that Seattle wasted opportunities to gain points. They were up a goal down in Portland and failed to score against the Whitecaps. Both of those matches were games that Seattle should expect to win. They failed. Instead a club that could still finish second in the West has to hope that one of the worst teams in the league fails. It is a poor situation.
SaH: This year they are on par with those sides. The Galaxy are poor if they don't have both of AJ DeLaGarza and Omar Gonzalez on the field. Real Salt Lake is bad if they don't have Jamison Olave. The Sounders struggle without Mauro Rosales. Any of these teams at full health is capable of challenging the Earthquakes at the top of the West, except that they haven't. In fact, Seattle has the second fewest losses in MLS and essentially half their losses are to San Jose. Every year the Sounders have had a bugaboo team. This year it is not RSL or LA (that would be 2011 and 2010 respectively) but the 'Quakes. With the game in hand, seeds two through four are basically tied.
STF: It's been a couple months since Christian Tiffert signed on with Seattle. How has he fared since his debut with Seattle? What kind of impact is he making on the team at large?
SaH: At first his quality defense and passing were clearly demonstrated. He was a shuttler type on offense with Alonso-esque defense. Recently he's been dealing with an ankle issue and keeping up with the energy level of the league. He is not using the injury as an excuse. After practice Wednesday he said to Sounder at Heart, "The problem with my ankle for the past four weeks isn't easy because you are not at 100%, but in soccer there are I don't know 10-15 days in your career when you are 100%. Pain belongs to the game." But the fact of the matter is that his play in late September is not to his standard, nor to fans' expectations. We have yet to see the massive assist numbers that he put up in 10/11 in the Bundesliga. A rapid transition/adaptation to MLS that shows in October could fuel a late run and Playoff performances by the whole team.
STF: With the play-offs just a few short weeks away, where does Seattle's priorities lie these days?
SaH: All the points. The only match that doesn't matter is the CCL match at the CLink against Marathon. The rest are about getting points for a push to second in the West and a chance at hosting the MLS Cup Final with players wearing the Rave Green. There is also the bonus against Portland because of the Cascadia Cup. If Seattle can capture the Cascadia Cup and get out of the first round of the Playoffs it will be a decent year that fell short of a major trophy. That's the very minimum in judging this season.