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Portland Scouting Report: The Increasingly Old Firm

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The fourth edition of Sounders vs Timbers 2014 kicks off on Sunday. These two teams know all about each other at this point, so it's just a question of Seattle's center-focused attack taking on the Timbers' weak central defense.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Well here we are again. When the MLS schedule changed from balanced to regional after the 2011 season there was legitimate concern that the now 3 games per season against the Timbers was overplaying the best rivalry in the league. Add in the fact that the US Open Cup brackets are regional to save travel costs, which makes another matchup with the Timbers likely. That has been the case this season and we've now reached the 4th game of 2014 against our southern neighbors, with the potential of more playoff matchups awaiting.

But whether you think the rivalry is getting stretched too thin by the third Timbers game in just over a month, or whether the familiarity is just breeding more contempt, there's no question that matches against Portland have been pretty good to the Sounders this season. The first was a wild late road draw in which 4 Seattle goals prevented the Timbers from getting their first win of the season. Then a 3-1 Open Cup win and a 2-0 league win in the space of a few days were high points in an otherwise difficult July and August stretch.

Key Players
Diego Valeri The Argentine magician has scored or assisted on more than a third of the Timbers' goals. Shutting him down shuts down the offense and will be the main responsibility of Alonso.
Diego Chara What strength in the defensive midfield exists comes from the Colombian. His game seems to have gotten a little dirtier as he relies more on hard than accurate tackles.
Darlington Nagbe The official state angst of Oregon is fretting about when the talented Nagbe will start scoring consistently and whether being the league leader in fouls suffered has taken away his game.

It's possible that Seattle's success over their rivals this season has been a result of a good matchup between their strengths and the Timbers weaknesses. The go-to offensive move for Seattle this season has been close passing and one-twos right through the center of a defense to free Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins for short range chances. Against some teams, especially recently, that has been a bad strategy as teams have just packed 6-8 players into that zone to easily disrupt those passing sequences. That's a large part of the reason that Seattle only took 1 point from 2 games against a very bad Earthquakes team.

But Portland's weakness has been in the center all season. Their center back foibles became legendary through the first half of the year. And midfielder Will Johnson has regressed terribly this season from a generally solid defensive presence to a generally erratic goldfish leaving huge gaps as he darts all over midfield overpursuing the ball. Add to that the fact that the Timbers are extremely unlikely to pack in the defense at home, at least if they don't have a big lead. That means there should be enough weakness in the center that the Oba and Deuce show's increasingly questionable strategy could actually be fruitful.

The Timbers are technically coming off short rest and long travel after a midweek CCL match in Guyana. But Porter heavily rotated that squad and was able to beat Alpha United with a roster of mostly reserves, so fatigue shouldn't have an impact on Sunday. The danger-man remains Diego Valeri, who can both score himself from distance and create chances with deft passing for Fanendo Adi and Gaston Fernandez. And maybe some day Darlington Nagbe will find his scoring boots. None of this is news. . it's the same Timbers attack we've seen for nearly two years.

There's also the little matter of the Cascadia Cup. Vancouver are strong favorites for the Cup with both the points lead and a game in hand on Seattle. It's likely necessary for the Sounders to get at least a point this weekend to stay close enough to make that Cascadia finale against the Whitecaps in Seattle in October meaningful. And they'll likely need some help from Portland with wins over Vancouver, which would also mean that the Timbers are much more likely to make the playoffs, as the Caps are the primary team they're chasing. So pick your poison with that one.