They meet again. And again, and again. The Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders are meeting for the 98th time in all competitions and leagues. It is the fifth time this season the two organizations face each other (1 MLS game, 1 Open Cup game, 2 USL games). It is the 19th MLS regular season meeting. They have seven Open Cup contests between their USL and MLS eras, and once the two teams have met in the MLS Cup Playoffs. They know each other well and the tactics will not change much.
“I’d just like to keep the streak going on because we've had a couple of good results, but obviously we understand they're going to be at home, they're going to have the crowd behind them there, but the tactics and lineups and all that will be normal Seattle-Portland tactics,” head coach Brian Schmetzer said on Saturday. “You know we're going to go out and try to play our style and try to impose our will on them and Caleb's going to do the same with his. You know it's going to be a good game.”
One of the keys will be limiting Diego Valeri. Seattle cannot let him touch the ball often, and when he does it must be as far from Stefan Frei as possible. Valeri has nine goals and six assists. He is the lynchpin of an offense that can be as good as MLS has to offer.
“It has to be a team effort because he pops up in different areas of the field. Yes, our holding midfielder and our center backs, when they need to step to him, they have to be aware where he likes to play. But like he scored a goal for them against us last year from way out in the corner, lifted over Stefan’s head,” Schmetzer warned, “so he's a great player, you just have to make sure whoever marks him makes him play negative and doesn't let him time and space to get his head up because that's when he's most dangerous.”
Portland will have their own issues defensively. While the Sounders attack is not as potent as projected, it is still potentially formidable. Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro, Jordan Morris and even sometime starter Will Bruin are capable of dominating a game. The Timbers do not have their usual backline available to defend that quartet.
But the Sounders attackers cannot merely coast. They must clear cut the weak Timbers.
“They know the predicted lineup, we've shown them the film, so you have to actually accomplish that,” Schmetzer said. “You can't just say, ‘OK they have a makeshift backline,’ and expect the balls are just going to magically go into the goal. We’ve still got to do the work and the thought and the thinking and all of that. So we prepared them for possible lineups for sure. Once we get the actual lineup sheet we’ll know for sure and we'll go from there”
And yet, for all the tactics, these games are often defined by singular moments — 48 seconds, Adi scoring and taking the chainsaw, Dempsey netting a hattrick, a certain referee’s notebook.
This is Seattle versus Portland. It is the biggest rivalry in soccer north of the Rio Grande. It is thousands of traveling supporters. It is the Cascadia Cup. These are the past two champions, and neither is going to allow the other to be the first to two, if they have the choice.
There is a reason why FOX put the first match on their broadcast channel. And when the heat forced the game to move, ESPN switched to a half-hour pregame show on ESPN2 starting at 7 PM with a kickoff almost exactly at 7:30.
You are that reason. The Sounders and Timbers senior teams are meeting for the 98th time tonight. They do so knowing each other as well as any teams in this hemisphere. They also know that a singular moment can destroy any plan.