Who You’ll Watch
The Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers will play the first of three games regular season games this Saturday. This will be the first meeting since Seattle won MLS Cup. This will also be the first time that both teams will square off with a star above their crest.
The Timbers come into CenturyLink Field licking their wounds after a 4-1 beatdown by the Montreal Impact. The Sounders are coming off their first win in a month, with their 1-0 victory over Real Salt Lake. Portland sits in fifth place (with 18 points in 12 games played, good for 1.5 ppg), and Seattle currently resides in eighth (with 13 points in 12 games played, good for 1.08 ppg).
After starting the season off hot, Portland has cooled off quite a bit, with just five points in their last five games. They will be without Diego Chara who picked up a straight red card after hitting Ignacio Patti in the face just 18 minutes into their match against Montreal. David Guzan is one yellow card away from picking up a one-game suspension due to accumulation.
On the injury side of things, the Timbers have three players listed as out — Gbenga Arokoyo (Achilles tear, out for season), Chance Myers (hamstring injury) and Jeff Attinella (hamstring injury). Darlington Nagbe is listed as questionable (hamstring injury) but expect him not to miss this match. Definitely missing the match will also be everyone’s favorite foul machine, Diego Chara, after he earned himself a solid red for very intentionally forearming a player in the face in front of the referee.
For the Sounders, it’s the normal. Roman Torres (left hamstring strain), Henry Wingo (right ankle sprain) and Will Bruin (left elbow dislocation) are listed as out. Aaron Kovar (groin surgery) is once again listed as questionable.
Timbers Form: W-D-L-D-L
Top Scorers: Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi, six goals
Top Assist Leaders: David Guzman and Valeri, four assists
Notable Portland roster changes:
Out: Ned Grabavoy, Jack Jewsbury, Nat Borchers, Lucas Melano, Jermaine Taylor
In: David Guzman, Sebastian Blanco, Roy Miller, Lawrence Olum, Jeff Attinella, Marco Farfan
What to Watch
With apologies to Denny Green, they will be what we expect them to be. In conjunction with current title-holder for World’s Smuggest Face, Portland’s core of Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Valeri, and Adi has given them a consistent identity and style, marginally adjusted based on the supporting casts’ strengths.
This year’s edition has added a couple of key components, in Guzman and Blanco, that have shaped the team in both attitude and formation more than in years past. Blanco is essentially an offensive Chara, in that he fouls often and is clearly never in the wrong. His arrival has pushed Nagbe back out to the wing, though there’s a fair bit of interchange between Nagbe and Valeri. He’s third in shots on the team, at 2.1 per game, and has added a badly needed third consistent goal-dangerous threat to the Timbers offense.
The added danger is reflected in their sitting tied with three other teams for second-most goals on the season (22). No longer can you sit on Valeri and Adi and feel fairly confident you have a chance to at least walk away with a draw. It also can be seen in the balance in their attack - a 35/27/39 split - which is one of the better-balanced in the league. They have a tendency to dribble in deeper than other teams and try to put in chip crosses for Adi or balls to the back post for trailing runners. They’re also happy to concede a fair bit of possession ( 16th at just 47.4% per game), and make more use of the counterattack than years past.
Guzman provides the team with a functional CDM partner for Chara, which in turn has allowed Chara to push a bit further without as much punishment. His quality has also helped solidify the 4-2-3-1 era in Portland. Their version plays slightly more conservatively than Seattle’s: the CBs don’t spread out quite as wide, and the OBs sit just a bit further back. Neither Liam Ridgewell nor Roy Miller are world-beater CBs, and they’re certainly not fast. Quick ball movement offers the opportunity to get them turned, and, as their 14.3 fouls per game (3rd worst in the league) shows, they’re happy to give free kick opportunities in exchange for not getting beat.
Keep Adi locked down - The Timbers still rely on Adi for a significant portion of their goals and chance creation. He remains a major threat from pretty much everywhere, and looks to have improved the nuance parts of his game.
In defense, in particular, Portland has made an interesting change that seems aimed at improving his chances. Rather than lead the press, he hangs back a bit and allows Valeri to handle most of the running. This does a few things they look to be benefiting from: first, it keeps Valeri higher and pushes the transition work to Nagbe and Blanco; second, it allows the presser a holdup outlet should he win the ball; and third, it allows for a better press with actual defensive contribution.
All of these free him up to move off the ball more to find and create space, and pull him off the CBs primarily responsible for containing him. If he’s able to find an open horizontal channel between the back line and the DMs to move in he’s absolutely able to punish the team, and he almost certainly will. The central back line will need to be careful to recognize what Portland is doing to free him up and counter accordingly.
Go for the heart - With Chara out Porter has a tough decision to make on who slots into the second CDM role if he chooses to stick with the 4-2-3-1. It’s also possible he elects to add a midfielder further up and go with a 4-1-4-1. The first creates brand-new partnership, while the second leaves less cover for the back line. Either of these offers a much higher chance of miscommunication and defensive holes. As good as the OB play was last week for Seattle (at least for the first 60-65 minutes), and as important as it will be this week, the best indicator of success will likely be how well the Sounders are able to apply pressure to the center of the defense.
Seattle: Stefan Frei; Joevin Jones, Chad Marshall, Gustav Svensson, Brad Evans; Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan; Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro, Harry Shipp; Jordan Morris
Portland: Jake Gleeson, Alvas Powell, Roy Miller, Liam Ridgewell, Vytas Andriuškevičius, David Guzman, Amobi Okugo, Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, Fanendo Adi
How to Watch
Date/Time: Saturday, May 27 12:00 p.m.
Venue: CenturyLink Field
Television: FOX (Q13 FOX)
Radio: KIRO 97.3 FM (English), El Rey 1360 AM (Spanish)