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Sounders vs Portland Timbers: Three Questions

The 4th place Timbers travel to the 7th place Sounders for a huge national TV match (ESPN at 2 PM). Sounders FC can recapture a place above the red line with a win over their greatest rival.

Mike Russell / Sounder at Heart

These are the two greatest rivals in American soccer. Everyone that loves the sport and watches it in the US or Canada already knows that. It carries an appeal beyond just soccer fans. ESPN is showing the game on their main channel. CenturyLink is open to all who want to come. It is also a game among two teams that were expected to compete for trophies in 2015.

On the road the Portland Timbers are a decent 4-7-2 -12 GD away from the Glass House. Seattle Sounders FC are a decent 8-4-1 +8 GD in the confines of CenturyLink Field. Since their June 16th Open Cup meeting the rivals took two different paths. Sigi Schmid's side is 2-9-0 -11 GD. Caleb Porter's club earned a 5-3-3 -3 GD.

Seattle is looking to continue a playoff streak that goes back to 2006. The Timbers are hoping to return to the Playoffs for only their second time in MLS and ninth time since pro-soccer rebooted in 1994.

William from Stumptown Footy answers Three Serious Questions about the upcoming Cascadia contest.

SaH: No Chara or Johnson for this one, who will try to control Oba and Clint (if he plays) when they drop back?

STF: The Timbers are committed to having a strong block of six players in the defensive end, which means that if Johnson is not able to go, we will see the combination of Jack Jewsbury and George Fochive paired up in the holding midfield slots midfield. Fochive, despite his inexperience with the first team, appears to a quick learner and has improved his game significantly with T2 over the course of the season. His athleticism and willingness to roam the field should pair up nicely with Jewsbury's experience and generally impeccable positioning to form a dynamic pairing for the Timbers.

While the pairing of Will Johnson and Diego Chara requires a sometimes delicate balance as both players like getting forward and being involved in the attack, Jewsbury and Fochive should have a somewhat different dynamic. Jewsbury has certainly lost a step over the years and, when he has been effective for the Timbers this year, he has picked his spots carefully to get forward while spending most of the match parked in front of the team's back line. When paired up with Fochive, however, Jewsbury's tendency to stay back sets Fochive free to be a wide-roaming ball-winner who can put pressure on all over the field.

As far as dealing with Martins and Dempsey goes, expect a consistent team effort to shut them down, with Fochive harrying the man with the ball and Jewsbury looking to either step in for the double team or drop off to pick off a pass.

SaH: What does Lucas Melano add to the team that Gaston Fernandez didn't?

STF: Lucas Melano and Gaston Fernandez are two very different players that bring significantly different aspects to the Timbers' attack. Where Fernandez made things happen with his close-in dribbling, quick passing, and a knack for being in just the right spot at the right time to poach a goal, Melano brings a ridiculous turn of pace and a propensity for stretching out the opposition's back line and, in doing so, creating space for the rest of the Timbers' attack in which to operate. Fernandez loved to operate in tight quarters, while Melano is built to run free.

Of course, even five games into Lucas Melano's tenure with the Timbers, there is still plenty of debate as to how the team should be using their new designated player. Billed as being capable of playing any of the Timbers' four attacking spots, Melano has seen time as the team's lone striker, left winger, and second striker already. This flexibility -- and the team's use of it -- bring to mind Fernandez's time with the Timbers as he also bounced around the team's front four.

In the end, however, the Timbers and most of their fans agreed that Fernandez was a No. 10, a spot that he was competing for with Diego Valeri. Melano does not need to displace the Timbers' best player to get the sort of playing time that he wants as his skills seem to fit very nicely on either wing or up top. With Fernandez the question was if he would get playing time. With Melano the question is who else will not get playing time.

SaH: How is Porter when planning against relatively unknown players? There's not a lot of game film of the Sounders as currently constructed.

STF: If you were to ask Caleb Porter, or anyone connected with the Timbers' organization, this question they would most likely tell you that they will be concentrating on themselves and how they will play in Sunday's match. To a certain extent that is true. Whether the Timbers are setting out to play the defense-first, quick attacking style that has characterized the team this year or the smothering possession-oriented game that Timbers fans wish the team was successful with after 2013, Porter's teams have generally been one size fits all in how they frustrate their opposition.

But there are exceptions. The Timbers have been caught off guard at times this year, particularly when Orlando City made good use of the movement of Kaka to pull the Timbers' midfield well out of position and capitalize on those openings, resulting in the Timbers' only home loss this year. The move worked for Orlando because it was so far out of left field that, even though it was a natural reaction to what the Timbers were doing at the time, Porter and company did not see it coming because it was something that Orlando had never done effectively before (and really have not done since).

Projected Lineup: Kwarasey; Villafana, Ridgewell, Borchers, Powell; Fochive, Jewsbury; Melano, Valeri, Nagbe; Adi

* * *


STF: Since June the Sounders have been riddled with injuries and suspensions, picked up some new players, and have generally been a team in flux. Who is healthy, who isn't, and and how badly has the inability to put together a consistent lineup hurt the Sounders?

SaH: Who is healthy/not is a tough question to answer. Sigi has been quite close to the vest with the status of Clint Dempsey, Osvaldo Alonso, Chad Barrett and Leo Gonzalez. Andreas Ivanschitz is out, as are three players way down the depth chart.

Lineup issues were a huge part of the Dire Days. There is no doubting that. Should the Sounders have scraped together a couple of ties from June 16th to the present? Yes, they failed - hard. For that reason they added Ivanschitz, Friberg, Torres and Haedo Valdez. That's a lot of change in the secondary transfer window.

When fully healthy that means the following players from the Shield winning team no longer start - Neagle, Pappa, Pineda, Gonzalez, Scott and Yedlin. During the Dire Days the Sounders were without Dempsey, Martins, Alonso, Evans, Pappa, Gonzalez and Frei for half or more of their losses. If one were to rank the importance of Sounders players that would be seven of the top nine with only Marshall and Mears playing most of the time during that down stretch.

Whatever the reasons for the failures then and the hopes for success now, there is a hole. They dug it themselves. They can climb out, or bury the team based on these final few weeks.

STF: Andreas Ivanschitz, Roman Torres, and Nelson Valdez are the three big additions that the Sounders made late in the summer transfer window; how are they fitting into the team and how do they change the team from the Sounders side that we saw earlier this year?

SaH: Ivanschitz is still injured and will not play. The idea is that when he's healthy he will be a Mauro Rosales type hugging the line and slinging the ball in on crosses and set-pieces. With a roster at full health he may be guy on the bubble of the 12 (competing with Pappa and Neagle for starts).

Roman Torres puts another defensive anchor alongside Chad Marshall. It's a huge tandem and potentially the best in CONCACAF club soccer. Both are great in the air. What Torres adds that Marshall doesn't is some long ball accuracy, but he is less effective at short passing than Brad Evans was, that means that the fullbacks and CDM have to sit a bit closer to the two CBs in order to start possession out of the back.

Nelson Haedo Valdez burst on the scene. He's a clearly capable forward that love the contact that MLS offers, as he has the necessary speed and dribbling to burst out of it and range free. With the Sounders he will play as a forward alongside Clint or Oba, or when they are both healthy he can be a very high right wing. Haedo Valdez provides good forward pressure after turnovers, a bit like Martins. With those two on the field Seattle can create early turnovers and hit transitions quickly.

STF: With the Sounders now just a tie-breaker away from falling out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference and the San Jose Earthquakes surging up the table, how badly do the Sounders need a win here if they are going to right the ship and not miss out on the playoffs for the first time in the franchise's MLS era?

SaH: Since I'm late on my responses I get to answer this as the Sounders being out of the Playoffs. There is no more clear symbol about how far this Summer's fall happened than looking up at the red line. The standards here are high. For the soccer aficionados it was 2006 that they last saw the Sounders miss the Playoffs. That was only their second time doing so since 1994. That's a long history of success on the field that is in danger of getting a giant asterisk next to it.

It is fitting that the time to right the ship is against the Timbers. There is no better way to re-energize the fanbase and the team, than to use national television, 63,000+ in attendance and the return of a couple players to say "we're back. The dire days are over." It's not going to be easy. This Fall is not going to be easy. Adrian, Garth, Sigi and the players created this for themselves. It's time for them to release the pressure valve with a resounding victory.

Lineup prediction: Frei; Fisher, Torres, Marshall, Mears; Pappa, Friberg, Evans, Rose; Martins, Haedo Valdez

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