Most Seattle Sounders fans (but not all) probably can’t get enough of Timbers matchups, of which there have been an extremely high number in recent years, thanks in part to the US Open Cup regional draw. The two sides are set to meet on Tuesday at Starfire Sports in Tukwila in USOC play, having already met once in the league this season. Some might think the sheer quantity of games between the sides degrades the quality of the rivalry, but according to Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei on Monday, that’s not the case. “Even when we play them in preseason, you sense that it’s not just another walkthrough when getting ready,” Frei said.
As a player who has experienced forced rivalries, Frei said there’s nothing fake about Cascadia meetings. “I’ve been part of things like the Trillium Cup, trying to create the Canada against the US rivalry where it just kinda wasn’t really there. There’s nothing needed here, it’s natural and it’s great.”
Frei also dismissed any notion that it’s a throwaway game because there’s often a lot of squad rotation by both teams. Young and fringe players often get the nod in early Open Cup matchups, some of which never really have much of an edge to them. But even if it’s kids vs. kids in Open Cup action, the rivalry emotions are still there. Frei called these matches “really good moments, really good opportunities for guys to shine, to show what they’re made of, why they deserve to be on the squad. What better way to get experience than against your rival?”
Head coach Brian Schmetzer has a pretty similar outlook regarding the perennial Open Cup meeting between the Sounders and Timbers, but he recognizes both the good and the bad of the situation. He said on Monday that he is happy that the Sounders get a home game, but he’s not as keen on putting his players back in the pressure cooker that produced events like the Red Card Wedding. “Am I happy that we have to play our arch rival all the time on a small field where tempers flare? It is what it is. You can only control what you control.”
But even if the pitch at Starfire does seem to encourage flared tempers between the Sounders and the Timbers, Schmetzer believes his team truly have home field advantage there. Years of matches and training sessions have helped the Sounders get to know the pitch and the atmosphere on an intimate level that often boosts them over stubborn or difficult opponents. “It plays a little smaller, a little narrower. There are certain nuances that the players have honed in on over the course of time.”
Everyone knows that the Sounders will indeed be making the aforementioned rotations in the squad, but in true Schmetzer form, he gave no indication of what those choices would be. He said that his team will be “balanced” but most importantly that it “will be a team that appreciates this,” pointing to the Sounders crest on his shirt. Schmetzer said he will be leaning on S2 head coach Ezra Hendrickson more than usual in picking the right players to face Portland. “[Hendrickson] watches our trainings, I watch his. I lean on him for what I need and I think that’s a sign of an organization that’s starting to bear some fruit of all the work we’ve been doing.”
Schmetzer noted that his non-international players had a few days off last week for a mental refresh, but didn’t say if certain players would be given more rest on Tuesday night. Of the players currently with the squad, Schmetzer said the team is quite healthy right now, just “a couple minor aches and pains.” He also noted, with a slight smirk, that Jordan Morris would be in Seattle — but he wouldn’t divulge any more on the topic.