Round three of the 2012 Cascadia Cup contest between sees the Seattle Sounders head down south to face the struggling Portland Timbers. In the mini-league standing no team yet stands out as a leader with the two previous matches ending in draws. The Whitecaps sit in first with two points. For the Timbers this is probably their only chance at a Cup. So even though for a trophy it is minor, for the faithful in Portland this is one of their biggest matches of the year.
They are already out of the Open Cup. Their chances at the MLS Cup Playoffs are tiny. They are not in the Champions League. This largest of rivalries in American soccer will be featured on ESPN at 2 PM Sunday. The lead in programming is features England vs Italy in the Euros. With drive and ambition high for both sides, with both needing wins for different reasons (six match winless streak?) the nation should get some quality MLS action. To help prepare for the match is Geoff from www.StumptownFooty.com and there are a few bonus questions. Lineup projections are included as well.
SaH: One of the more significant changes from last year is the use of Jack Jewsbury as the right back. How does that shift the attack and defense from last year to this?
STF: Jewsbury's move to the right back is primarily due to two reasons: 1. he was ineffectual as a CDM paired up with another player who is more appropriate to play as a CDM (Diego Chara), and 2. the Timbers current right backs weren't incredibly talented. Particularly Lovel Palmer who was consistently playing worse and worse as the season wore on in that position. As such, it made sense to put Cap'n Jack there since he was familiar with the position having played there with Sporting KC.
Ultimately, the benefits are two-fold. Jack is a very capable right back winger as he often hangs back to defend, but he's also able to knock in some great crosses when needed, as we've seen from his free kicks over the years. Having him there not only bolsters defense, but allows for much better crosses into the box in the final third.
SaH: The Timbers seem to be working to a three forward rotation with former Sounder Mike Fucito as the third of those. How have Danny Mwanga and Kris Boyd worked together? What does Fucito bring to the Timbers?
STF: It's a little early to say what will really come of the Mwanga-Boy partnership, but we saw hints of what could be against the LA Galaxy last Sunday and it was very promising. The key here is that Boyd is a target striker. Find him in the box and let him get a boot or head on it and he'll put it on target. Mwanga, however, is a withdrawn striker, more likely to take a strike from either side of the box, or feed it into Boyd when necessary as we saw last Sunday. Hopefully, what we end up getting is a great partnership between the two, but it will take time... as all great things do.
As for Fucito, he's a great substitute because he just runs the defense ragged. We've yet to see him score here in Portland, which is a shame, but fans love his energy when he gets on the field in the last 20 minutes or so. Hopefully, he'll eventually be able to get the break on some tired defenders soon though.
SaH: Has the high roster churn affected Spencer's coaching style?
STF: It's hard to say just what is affecting John Spencer these days and everybody seems to have an opinion this way or that. I'll just say though that most roster changes will change a coach in some way. Different players have different styles and it's up to the coach to fit them in with his tactics or change his tactics to fit the player. Either way it hasn't panned out for the Timbers... yet.
SaH: What does the Timbers community do to educate the players on the importance of the Cascadia Cup?
STF: On a formal level? I'm not sure. Whether the Timbers Army or even the Timbers FO has anything official is beyond me. But I'm not sure it would be necessary anyway. Everybody knows this is a huge match up. Players who were here last year know the intensity of the matches. And those players were clued in by players who were with the Timbers during the USL years (of which there are still a couple).
I think soccer players are naturally turned on to rivalries. There will always be that team that you're comparing yourself to. For Portland, it just happens to be Seattle and vice versa (with Vancouver thrown in as well).
Projected Lineup: Troy Perkins; Jack Jewsbury, David Horst, Hanyer Mosquera, Steven Smith; Kalif Alhassan, Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Franck Songo'o; Danny Mwanga, Kris Boyd
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STF: Two key changes in the typical Seattle line up from last year: Kasey Keller retired and Eddie Johnson was added. Can you explain a little about how these two players have changed the line up since last year and how the team has performed without and with them respectively?
SaH: Losing the legend and captain didn't change much on the field in the first half of the season so far. Michael Gspurning stepped in and played as well as Keller had at any point. But now, the group leadership concept is being questioned. Gspurning is injured and keeper is a question mark until the Austrian is back. One of the great things is having Keller in the booth. We are getting to know the man a bit now, rather than just the player.
EJ was brought in for peak talent. While Seattle had options to pair with Fredy Montero up top, none since Nate Jaqua of 09 have been full season difference makers in the eyes of the Sounders brain trust. He offers size and speed and technique. His biggest questions are about judgement and fitting into the team. While Estrada, Ochoa and Fucito are capable of starting for a stretch of games, they aren't likely to be difference makers in the CCL or MLS Cup Playoffs.
STF: How has key striker Freddie Montero performed so far this year? Is he above, at, or below expectations?
SaH: Montero is off to his best start of MLS, and yet falling below expectations. The reasons behind that are two fold. One, Seattle fans want more trophies. The three Open Cups, Cascadia Cup and Heritage Cup are nice, but they aren't a Supporters' Shield or MLS Cup or CCL title. To get to that level Montero will be the horse ridden. Still, he's on a decent start, and could start one of those multi-game scoring streams at any moment. He'll do it from odd spaces, unbelievable angles and have moments where his first touch is as good as any in the world.
STF: Seattle has hit a bit of a rough patch with 3 draws and 2 losses in the last five regular season games. What do you attribute to this?
SaH: At one point I thought that the depth of Seattle's defensive core was key to it's performance. Now I've moved to thinking that they were performing well despite a lack of consistent playing time. The heavy rotation has lead to 7 different players getting significant time on line. In the recent run of poor form there are clear communication issues between players who are of quality. Someday the Sounders will get a consistent run from their "ideal" four, but it will be a few more weeks.
STF: With Seattle still being alive in the U.S. Open Cup, and, presumably, still in the running for both the Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup, how important is it for them to also win Cascadia Cup?
SaH: Regional trophies shouldn't be more important than league wide trophies. The good thing about this year's Cascadia Cup is that the Vancouver Whitecaps are pushing Seattle on the league table. Even if Seattle doesn't prioritize the Cascadia, they will need those points to reach their ultimate goal. If they only earn a fourth Open Cup and second MLS Cascadia Cup will leave many fans and supporters wanting. How Sigi values the various Cups will be evident in the lineup he fields, regardless of results.
STF: Do you miss Mike Fucito?
SaH: Yes. Quite a bit. While the Church of Fucito was a lot of cultish meme fun, it was also a recognition that I saw a player deserving of being a higher draft pick than he was and deserving of more playing time than he got. He fit well into the team too. While he didn't excel at social media his teammates took the opportunity to make jokes at his expense. Some of my fascination with Fucito is also because I'm basically his height, and in my good times I've been his weight (well, less, as I never had the muscle mass). His frame doesn't scream pro athlete and yet he's more fit than 90% of MLS players. His tactical awareness is strong. He thinks his shooting window is about 10 inches. He pressures the opposing backline quite well. Does this mean he's the greatest player in the world? No. Do I miss what he added to the Sounders? Yes. Heck, I miss seeing him at practice. I miss that uncomfortable moment when I went to the media relations team and requested an interview to "ask him about the Church of Fucito." I miss his answer when he said that he appreciates the fans and will give them everything he has.
Did I just put Mike on a pedestal? Probably and I don't really care. I'd take him back in Rave Green tomorrow. I think he'd get playing time here right now and he'd be great in the Champions League.
Thanks for asking the easiest question in the history of Three Questions. I do miss Mike Fucito. I hope he scores three goals on Sunday. I hope Seattle scores six. Wherever he plays I want him to succeed, even on the squad of my greatest rival.
Predicted starting line up? (first and last names please)
4-4-2/4-2-3-1 hybrid from left to right - Andrew Weber; Marc Burch, Patrick Ianni, Jeff Parke, Zach Scott; Servando Carrasco; Alex Caskey, Andy Rose, Roger Levesque; Fredy Montero, Sammy Ochoa