It's a big game so we went bigger with Three Questions and changed the Scouting Report for this match only (though the Playoffs will likely see another shift in presentation). Let's continue our chat with Michael from Stumptown Footy with a particular focus on Portland's deteriorating central midfield.
SaH: Rodney Wallace could be the most improved player now that he's a winger. How does he match against quicker right backs?
STF: Wallace can play well against quicker or slower right backs. The main determinant for his success seems to be momentum. More than any other Timbers player, especially now that Darlington Nagbe has emerged as a more consistent threat, Wallace feeds off of his own momentum. After scoring four times and recording two assists in Portland's first thirteen games, Wallace missed six out of the eight games in June and July. When he returned from his first spell with Costa Rica, Wallace assisted on all three Timbers goals in a 3-0 defeat of Colorado Rapids. Since returning from the Gold Cup, he cooled off significantly. Finally, in heading in Diego Valeri's free kick on Wednesday night against Real Salt Lake, Wallace got back on the score sheet and almost immediately his overall play improved. If he can carry that positive feeling over from the midweek game, despite the way it ended, Wallace could be much more of a threat for Seattle than he would have been otherwise.
SaH: Due to injury and suspension the central midfield is going to be in flux. What can Porter do there without Chara, Johnson or Jewsbury (assuming those final two don't get healthy)?
STF: This is the hardest question to answer, especially because Porter isn't going to give any clues in the lead up. Ben Zemanski will definitely start in defensive midfield but if Jewsbury does not return from his ankle injury, there is no obvious replacement. One possibility would be dropping Wallace back from the left wing, sliding Nagbe to the left and inserting Kalif Alhassan on the right. But Wallace has really only played in the middle a few times this season, and most of that came as a substitute in March. Another possibility is that Porter could change formation. After playing in Seattle and Colorado in March, Porter has not really changed his formation, so it would be reaching back to those two games where there was essentially a diamond 4-4-2. In that model, Zemanski would be the base, Wallace left, Alhassan right, Nagbe at the point and Ryan Johnson and Valeri up top. Or maybe Nagbe and Valeri would be flipped. Either way, that seems less likely, especially on a short week without much time to devote to preparations. Still, none of that really answers the question.
SaH: How is Kah adapting to the MLS game?
STF: Kah is an average to good center back in MLS right now. He's physical enough, unintimidated by any opposing player and is a good (if not over-) communicator. He does struggle with positioning at times and has been known to commit unwise fouls in bad spots on the field. His partnership with Andrew Jean-Baptiste always seems to be hovering between outstanding and utter calamity, though to be fair, more often than not they escape games along the lines of the former. The point is, in a vacuum, Kah is fine. But individuals players like Javier Morales, recently, can easily get in Kah's head and drive him crazy. Don't be surprised if he picks up a yellow card at some point in Sunday's game.
Predicted Lineup: GK - Ricketts; LB - Harrington, CB - Jean-Bapitste, CB - Kah, RB - Powell; DM - Zemanski, DM - Wallace; LM - Nagbe, CM - Valeri, RM - Alhassan, F - R Johnson
SaH: I expect, and haven't been at practices to see anything, that Oba and EJ will be traditional forwards while Clint occupies a space similar to that which a traditional CAM would use. But, he's Dempsey. He'll be expected to score from there. Oba can drop back and switch. EJ and Dempsey can go wide as well. The real key in this inverted 4-3-3 will be how the wide mids play. Rosales seems to be left out while Evans, Joseph and Alonso play in the middle.
STF: Despite only losing once since mid-July, there is a sense that the Sounders aren't playing very well at the moment. Do you expect a resurgent performance or will the sluggish play of the past few weeks continue against Portland?
SaH: Sloppy road points are still road points. Seattle at home is a very different beast. It is a beast with many heads and averaging a double BoomBoom per match. The Sounders only home loss this year is to Montreal on a wonder goal. They aren't the split personality of last year's Timbers, but they are merely average on the road while being pretty great at CenturyLink. Only the Galaxy have a better goal differential at home. There's no reason to think the Sounders of the TFC/Dynamo matches will show up for this one.
STF: Of the non-extremely famous players on the roster, which Seattle player is most likely to have an impact against the Timbers on Sunday night?
SaH: Let's say I'm really intrigued by how Leo Gonzalez plays against Nagbe. Leo's had a strong year, but Nagbe is a fairly unique profile in MLS with height, muscle, speed and good ball skills. That's a handful for any left back in the league. Gonzalez is going to be tested. How he does may define the match. Which is kind of funny considering the fame of the rest of the roster.
Injuries/Supensions? Zakuani Out
Predicted lineup? Gspurning; Gonzalez, Traore, Hurtado, Yedlin; Alonso; Evans, Dempsey, Joseph; Johnson, Martins