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Sounders at Portland Timbers - Three Questions

Sunday night on national television (ESPN, 6 PM) the Seattle Sounders will attempt to navigate their toughest match of the year. Portland Timbers FC are a very good home team. Sigi's men need to right a ship that is about to take on water.

Victor Decolongon

This is a unique version of Three Questions. The reverse is only one question. It was difficult to answer. Michael Orr is the Stumptown Footy guide for this match between bitter rivals as Seattle Sounders FC travels to Portland in an attempt to win the Cascadia Cup and declare "This must never happen again." (Yes, that's a gratuitous Ender's Game movie quote.)

SaH: Does Porter target certain games for draws or is that just a side effect of being a better team?

STF: Caleb Porter would never concede that he has played for draws this season. And to be fair, it is probably safe to say he has not set out at the beginning of a game to pick up just one point instead of three. But there have certainly been times throughout the year where it's clear a draw is a good result with 10-15 minutes left, and he will bring in someone like Ben Zemanski to help kill off a game. The draws against Vancouver have all come from late equalizers with the Whitecaps picking up two and the Timbers one. So in general, to answer the second part of the question, the improved quality of the team has certainly provided more draws where losses would have occurred in seasons past. Regardless, don't count on anyone in Portland playing for a draw on Sunday.

SaH: How is Urruti fitting into the squad?

STF: Maximilano Urruti is an interesting case. He is quite a bit different than the other Timbers forwards - less inclined toward hold-up play than Ryan Johnson, more composed and less raw than Jose Valencia - but has found a nice rhythm in the Portland possession game after his first appearances. It took a few weeks to get accustomed to the style that Porter demands, and to break himself of his diving habit. But now that he has had roughly a month in the system, his passes are better, his movements fit better into the overall design and as everyone saw against LA Galaxy, he can be very effective in front of goal. With Johnson away with Jamaica this week and Valencia out of the starting line-up since Urruti's arrival, the young Argentine should start again and provide a different look than Seattle has seen this year against the Timbers.

SaH: What's the keeper situation like?

STF: Donovan Ricketts is the goalkeeper. He broke his thumb some weeks back, a fact that was only revealed by Jamaican media this week, but that has not stopped him from having several great games in September and October. Ricketts' efforts against Vancouver were very impressive and there is little reason to think his form will suddenly change. Partly due to his injured thumb, and partly due to Jamaica's standing in the CONCACAF table, Ricketts was not called up for international duty this week, so he will be the starting goalkeeper barring some freak accident between now and Sunday.

Significant Absences: Rodney Wallace (Costa Rica), Ryan Johnson (Jamaica), Alvas Powell (Jamaica); Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe are both recovering from injuries with Valeri's lingering for weeks now, but both are expected to play significant minutes against Seattle.

Projected Lineup: GK - Ricketts; LB - Harrington, CB - Futty, CB - Kah, RB - Jewsbury; CM - Chara, CM - W Johnson; LM - Nagbe, CAM - Valeri, RM - Alhassan; F - Urruti

Depending on how hurt Valeri/Nagbe are, someone like Sal Zizzo or Ben Zemanski could start.

* * *

STF: What is happening in Seattle right now and is there any reason to expect Sunday to be completely different?

SaH: What is happening is fairly easy to answer, but that second part a Sounders fan can only look to history and their heart.

Let's say there basically five phases to soccer (I'm kind of thinking through this out loud with you guys) the attack, the transition, defense, set-play offense and set-play defense. It seems a kind of logical. Right now not a single phase is going well. Now, this is MLS, so no team is going to have all portions go well at the same time, but to have all go bad, for different reasons, at once is just shattering.

Attacking set-pieces are pretty broken without Eddie Johnson who was away with the USMNT and is now out with an injury. Set-piece defense is a traditional weakness of the team. The run-of-play attack is both over-passing and not moving well enough to get men into dangerous positions. In transition the wide players are booming in crosses as if EJ is there while the central players aren't playing throughballs like they do at their best. Transition defense is usually the responsibility of Osvaldo Alonso with a bit of pressure from the rest of the non-defenders. Those other players aren't pressuring as they once did.

Then there is the defense. This is where things are most broken. Seattle gets at least one fullback forward, often both. When that happens and the transitions can't be delayed it leaves two CBs on an island. Against a speedy forward one mistake puts him against Gspurning on his own. And Gspurning isn't saving those shots right now.

Everything has been broken these last two matches. Some aren't as broken as others, but it's been down right awful.

Will that be what happens on Sunday? I can't know. I have faith. I have heart. Logic says that it will get better. At this point I will only believe things are different when they are. Seattle still controls its own destiny. They have to seize it.

Significant Absences: Joseph (Out - injured), Gonzalez (Possible - injury), Johnson (Out - USA/Injured), Evans (Out - USA)

Projected Lineup (I have no projection, this is what I would do): Hahnemann; Burch, Traore, Ianni, Yedlin; Moffat, Alonso; Neagle, Dempsey, Rosales; Martins

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