Who You’ll Watch
The current top two teams in the Western Conference will battle it out at CenturyLink Field on Sunday. The Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers are playing the last of their three 2017 regular season head-to-heads. This one’s for all the bragging rights, folks.
In the two previous meeting, the Sounders won 1-0 on Cristian Roldan’s goal in the 4th minute. In June, the Sounders stole a crucial point with Clint Dempsey’s 90’+4’ header to level the score at 2-2.
If Portland wins, they will have a strong hold on winning the Cascadia Cup for the first time since 2012. A win would give them 10 points with one Cascadia Cup game to play. If the Sounders win, they will jump over the Timbers in the standings and their final game against Vancouver will more than likely decide who takes home the cup.
As mentioned above, the Timbers sit in second place (40 points in 27 games played; 1.48 ppg) while the Sounders sit at the top (41 points in 26 games played; 1.58 ppg). Both teams are coming off playing a game on Wednesday night. The Sounders tied 1-1 against the Vancouver Whitecaps with the Timbers beating the Colorado Rapids 2-1.
Form: D-W-L-W-W with 10 goals scored; eight conceded
Top Scorer: Diego Valeri, 15 goals
Top Assist Leader: Valeri, nine assists
Form: D-W-W-W-D with eight goals scored, two conceded
Top Scorer: Clint Dempsey, 11 goals
Top Assist Leader: Joevin Jones, 10 assists
Absences: Injury, international duty, suspension
Portland: Gbenga Arokoyo (Achilles tear) and Chance Myers (hamstring injury) are both listed as out. Marco Farfan (ankle injury), Liam Ridgewell (quad injury), Fanendo Adi (hamstring injury) and Jake Gleeson (hamstring injury) are all listed as questionable. David Guzman picked up a yellow against the Rapids and will miss this game due to yellow card accumulation.
Seattle: Brad Evans (lower back pain) is listed as out. Lamar Neagle (left ankle sprain) is listed as questionable. Jones is away watching his national team play a friendly, so he will be unavailable for selection.
What to Watch
Nobody does less with more than Caleb Porter. With a roster often the most talented on the night (though it won’t be this Sunday), he somehow fails to produce a consistently dominant side. In fact, despite employing one of the best center forwards (Fanendo Adi) in the league, one of the top 5 all-around players (Diego Valeri), the divine touch of Darlington Nagbe, Diego Chara’s late runs, and the quality passing of Sebastian Blanco, he insists on a defensive system that would make dearly departed Pablo Mastroeni proud.
Specifically, we’re talking about the Timber’s focus on tearing games apart with fouls; most of them overly physical, and most of them completely unnecessary. They possess four of the top 10 foulers in the league (2. David Guzman, 6. Sebastian Blanco, 8. Diego Chara, 10. Fanendo Adi) - no other team has more than one. Guzman, of course, is also the first player in the league to earn his second yellow card accumulation suspension.
Timbers matches have remained slugged out affairs, punctuated by moments of brilliance from Valeri and flops from Adi. For the team with the third-most goals in the league, their offense is decidedly limited. Adi’s injury puts extra weight on Valeri, the only other Timber with more than 5 goals on the year. His absence also forces a change in play - no longer can they successfully drop balls onto his head for distribution to others in the box. Over the last couple matches this looks to have meant more channel runs and central play
So what’s it going to take to win?
Force Valeri backwards - realistically, you’re not going to eliminate him from a game. What you can do, however, is shift where his possession occurs. Force him to be the conduit rather than the lightbulb. Unfortunately, he’s likely to spend a lot of time running into the channel on Nouhou’s side. The Train is good, but he’ll need a lot of help.
Compressing Portland’s customary 4-2-3-1 will be just a bit easier without Guzman’s long passes. His defensive double pivot has been a critical part of their offensive success, and will be missed. This should also help limit the number of moderate-to-strong counters that happen, an ongoing weak spot for Seattle’s defense.
Help, help, help - PTFC’s talented wings will find ways to push forward; this is not, after all, the Minnesota offense. It will be vital that Seattle avoid the CBs being sucked too wide, and that the defensive midfielders provide wing help when possible.
The Timbers CDMs will press forward to try to gain the space vacated by their counterparts when the ball is wide. This, in turn, forces the forwards back and begins a cycle of clearances that looks for all the world like a punting battle in NFL preseason.
Movement will be the name of the game; towards compatriots to help, and away to create space when in possession.
Attack the wide channels - This is the weak spot, the place where they will break. This does not, of course, mean put 38 crosses into the box.
That would be absurd. Who crosses the ball 38 times in a match?
No, this is a call to drive hard and look for cutbacks or square balls, as was so successful against Vancouver. The Roy Miller-Larrys Mabiala partnership looks promising, but playing a spread back line requires the CBs be well-coordinated, and that has been a struggle point all season. Vytas and Zarek Valentin are passable, but certainly not all-stars, at the OB positions. Pulling defenders out should create space in the center, removing the seemingly ever-present top-of-the-box clog we see so often.
Take advantage of the set pieces - There’s no question there will be set pieces. Wednesday’s set pieces were generally great (Victor Rodriguez’s, in particular), and there’s no better way to stop a team from hacking than to make them pay when they do it. And really, I’m sure Lodeiro’s shins would do this all over again if Seattle could get Chara to back off.
Jeff Attinella is nowhere near the keeper that David Ousted is. If we can put similar quality shots on goal from set pieces, we should see a much better result this time.
Sounders: Frei; Nouhou, Marshall, Torres, Leerdam; Alonso, Roldan; Morris, Dempsey, Lodeiro; Bruin
Svensson could also play for Torres.
Timbers: Attinella; Vytas, Mabiala, Olum, Valentin; Chara, Okugo; Nagbe, Valeri, Blanco; Ebobisse
How to Watch
Date/Time: Aug 27 at 6:30 PM
Venue: CenturyLink Field
Television: FOX Sports 1, FOX Deportes
Radio: KIRO 97.3 FM (English), El Rey 1360 AM (Spanish)