Some of the most memorable meetings between the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers have taken place in the US Open Cup. Just in the last eight years, we’ve been given “48 seconds” (2009); Zach Scott scoring the winning penalty in a shootout (2010); a Sounders win in overtime that followed a last-gasp regulation equalizer by the Timbers (2014); and, of course, the Red Card Wedding (2015).
Tuesday’s encounter is shaping up very differently as both teams are expected to field squads heavy on backups and with a healthy contingent of USL call-ups.
Timbers head coach Caleb Porter has already gone on record stating that he’ll be putting out a weakened side in Tukwila.
Injuries, quick turnaround, schedule congestion, international absences, etc.— Richard Farley (@richardfarley) June 6, 2017
Unlike the Sounders, the Timbers have a game this weekend, against FC Dallas. They’ll follow the Open Cup game up with a road match against the Colorado Rapids on June 17. Further cutting into their first-team availability is Darlington Nagbe (USA) and David Guzman (Costa Rica) being on international duty.
The Sounders’ issues are a little different, but the result will probably be very similar.
Six players will be missing due to international duty -- Clint Dempsey (USA), Jordan Morris (USA), Joevin Jones (Trinidad & Tobago), Roman Torres (Panama), Jordy Delem (Martinique) and Oniel Fisher (Jamaica). After taking into account players who missed the most recent game with injury — Tony Alfaro (knee), Henry Wingo (ankle), Harry Shipp (hip) — and the expected absence of Alvaro Fernandez, the Sounders will likely have no more than 11 outfield players available for selection.
While that’s a highly suboptimal situation, MLS has created a way for teams to at least fill out the gameday 18 by signing players from their USL affiliates to four-day contracts. The league’s roster rules page does not suggest there’s a limit to how many such players can be signed, but five seems like a reasonable guess.
Here’s our ranking of who we think might get the call:
Ray Saari, CDM/AM, 100% chance of call-up
Ray Saari is the S2 player that I would be most comfortable with starting in the US Open Cup. He is a solid to great passer who knows when to play it safe and when to take a risk. He can cover a whole lot of ground defensively, is great at forcing turnovers and really congests the midfield with his movement.
Unfortunately, his best position is the one least affected by national team callups and injuries. All of Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan and Gustav Svensson are healthy and presumably available. That said, both Svensson and Roldan can and have been used elsewhere so it is still possible the best lineup for Tuesday includes Saari as one of the CDMs.
David Olsen, AM, 100% chance of call-up
The former Sounders academy striker has been S2’s most consistent attacking midfielder so far this season. Olsen is a good passer, especially in tight spaces. He isn’t going to put a long pass on a dime that often but he is excellent playing quick give-and-goes or working out of pressure. He can still finish very well in the box and has recently started to add dangerous, late back-post runs to his repertoire.
I’m not sure about starting him at this higher level quite yet but he would be an excellent substitute option. He moves around enough to cause a tired defense some problems and his own defense is very solid so there would be little drop off in the Sounders defending capacity.
Irvin Parra, FWD/AM, 90% chance of call-up
Parra has started to come into his own as a center forward. He bulked up in the offseason and has been causing USL center backs problems all year. He is not going to beat anyone with pace or skill but he is physical enough to occupy the center backs and has good enough feet to hold the ball up in difficult situations. He also presses the backline very well and will work as hard as he can for as long as he can.
Parra is also a decent option off the bench as an outside attacking midfielder. He has a pretty good shot when cutting in but can also deliver good service with both feet. He doesn’t currently have the stamina to go 90’ at midfield and his best position is probably now at FWD, so we probably won’t see him in the midfield, but it does provide a bit more flexibility.
Felix Chenkam, FWD, 10% chance of call-up
Chenkam is probably S2’s best forward, but with a recent injury and his very small track-record, he is a much riskier choice than Parra. He also occupies an international slot, which will be in short supply (teams are limited to five). That said, Chenkam has excellent holdup play, makes dangerous intelligent runs and can finish from near and far with both feet. Had he not been injured the last month, he would be a very tempting option. If the Sounders needed a starter he is probably the better choice, but with Adekoya likely starting up top, Parra is the safer choice.
Rodrigue Ele, CB, 70% chance of call-up
The Cameroonian has begun to challenge Sam Rogers as the best young center back on S2 in recent weeks. If the Sounders need a starting CB on Tuesday, Ele is their best bet and he would also be good off the bench, though he lacks some of the flexibility of the other defensive choices.
Ele is a very good passer and most of S2’s play out of the back goes through him. He is pretty calm in the back and is positionally solid. He is good in the air and is a solid one-on-one defender, though he can occasionally be spun by a quick attacker. He still makes the occasional unadvised tackle but he is improving in that area each week. He is the player on S2 who most understands how to play CB and is the most likely to be OK if he gets overwhelmed and his instincts take over.
Denso Ulysse, RB, 55% chance of call-up
Give Ulysse 2-3 more weeks and I am fairly confident that his call-up percentage would be much closer to 100. The Haitian has been a great right back in his last two games, before that, not so much, but he seems to have really gotten settled. Playing him in the Open Cup is very much a high-risk, highish-reward proposition but I don’t think the amount of risk is untenable.
Ulysse is a speedy right back who will bomb up and down the sideline all game long. He is a good passer and can combine well with other attackers to keep the ball moving. His crossing is excellent and varied. He is a good one-on-one defender though he can occasionally lunge in when he shouldn’t. He has gotten a lot better positionally but can still get sucked too far inside at times. I don’t think he is an ideal option, but with the situation at RB being what it is on the first team (Brad Evans should be available but is still not 90 minutes fit), I think he is the best option.
Brian Nana-Sinkam, CB/RB/LB, 55% chance of call-up
The only real reason to bring in Brian Nana-Sinkam is for his flexibility on the backline. In this case, that turns out to be a very good reason. Nana-Sinkam can play all four positions on the backline somewhat competently. I wouldn’t want him to start any of the positions but as a emergency-use defensive sub you could do a lot worse. I think he would be able to hold-down, with help, any position on the backline for 20-30 mins.
Riley Grant, CB/LB/CDM, 10% chance of call-up
Grant is a similar option to Nana-Sinkam but hasn’t shown the ability to play RB. He is probably a little better CB than Nana-Sinkam and a similarly skilled, though more offensively inclined LB. The only reason to choose him over Nana-Sinkam is if the team has concerns about Nouhou’s ability to start or go 90’. Absent that, Nana-Sinkam seems the more useful flex option.
Samuel Rogers, CB, 10% chance of call-up
The Academy centerback is another player that probably receives some consideration for the US Open Cup game but there is some paperwork and life decisions in the way. Academy players aren’t eligible for US Open Cup so Rogers would have to make the choice to sign a contract with S2, which would make him ineligible to play for a college team. If he were to do so, he would be in about the same boat as Ele. Rogers is a bit better long passer but is the more likely of the two to have a pass intercepted in a dangerous area. Rogers is also less fluent in the position of CB as Ele, but is less likely to make a rash or mistimed tackle.
If Rogers were to become eligible the choice between him and Ele becomes a toss up, though Ele’s status as an international may tilt the scale in Rogers’ favor.