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Scouting Report: Another week, another must-win

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They haven’t even played half the season yet, but the playoffs are almost out of reach.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

What You’ll Watch

The Seattle Sounders return to the pitch this Saturday and will host the Portland Timbers. This will be the second of three meetings and the only one played in Seattle. The Timbers won the first game 1-0 on May 13.

Portland currently sits fifth place in the Western Conference with a record of 6-3-5 (23 points in 14 games played; 1.64 ppg) while the Sounders sit in 10th with a record of 3-8-8 (12 points in 14 games played; 0.86 ppg). The Timbers drew 1-1 against Atlanta United FC last Sunday and the Sounders also drew 1-1 against the Chicago Fire.

This is the 101st all-time meeting between the two clubs. In MLS play this will be the 21st meeting, and the Sounders lead that portion of the series 9-5-6 with 35 goals scored and 30 conceded. At home Seattle has a record of 7-0-3 with 16 goals scored and five conceded. Let’s hope that zero stays there for at least one more week.

A Look at the Enemy

Last Five: W-W-D-D-D with seven goals scored and five conceded

Leading Goal Scorer: Diego Valeri, six goals (four on the road)

Assist Leader: Cristhian Paredes, Sebastian Blanco and Valeri, three each

Injury Report, Suspensions and International Duty

Portland

Out: N/A

Questionable: Roy Miller (left Achilles tendon injury), Liam Ridgewell (right quad injury), Fanendo Adi (left thigh injury) and Kendall McIntosh (left thigh injury)

Suspensions: N/A

International Duty: David Guzman (Costa Rica) and Andy Polo (Peru)

Seattle

Out: Jordan Morris (torn ACL), Kelvin Leerdam (right hamstring strain), Felix Chenkam (right hamstring strain), Handwalla Bwana (right midfoot sprain)

Questionable: Lamar Neagle (left groin strain) and Stefan Frei (concussion)

Suspensions: N/A

International Duty: Gustav Svensson (Sweden), Roman Torres (Panama)

Match Officials

REFEREE: Ismail Elfath

AR1: Eduardo Mariscal

AR2: Ian Anderson

4th: Sorin Stoica

VAR: Edvin Jurisevic

What to Watch

Portland’s System

When last we paid attention to our junior neighbors, Giovanni Savarese was facing questions over whether he knew what he was doing after a very rough start to the season. Those questions -- probably, at least; these are Timbers fans, after all -- have faded with the team’s 6-0-3 run of results, where they’ve given up less than a goal per game and had four shutouts.

Many of the notes from the first look at Savarese’s plans remain true, in spite of what seemed to be a yet-to-be-defined identity at the time. He’s settled into a 4-3-2-1 for the most part, though shown himself to be more interested in themes than formations (for instance, a 3-5-2 was used against Atlanta to try to attack space via wingbacks and take advantage of Atlanta’s shortcomings on wing defense). There’s been a strong emphasis on controlled passing, eschewing long balls for all but the most emergency of clearances.

The defensive theme has been bend-don’t-break, and — like any team with a nine-game results streak — there’s been a good bit of luck to keep scores favorable that probably paints them in a prettier shade of green than they fully deserve. Jeff Attinella seems to have won the job outright at this point, but he’s also outperforming his xGA at an unsustainable pace and is probably due for a bit of a turnaround. He’s had to make a number of top-quality saves to keep the team in games that, frankly, he probably won’t continue to make regularly.

That wouldn’t be good news for the back line in front of him, which has struggled due to both injuries and familiarity. The defenders have looked hesitant when facing down 1-v-1 situations, which has led to passes into threatening areas being easier than they should be. Diego Chara remains the most important player, bar none, for the Timbers, but he can only do so much to save a defense.

Savarese clearly doesn’t want the team to worship at the feet of Possession in the way that Caleb Porter asked it to — they remain near the bottom of the league for average possession per match (20th at 46.7%) and passing percentage (16th at 79.1%). They’re not perfectly built for it, but wonderful-human-being Diego Valeri and second-most insufferable-heel-in-the-league Sebastian Blanco (Will Johnson is still playing, after all) allow them to get out in front in transition and press the issue via not-quite-counterattacks. Fanendo Adi and Samuel Armenteros bring varied versions of the lone forward position; Adi with his familiar hold-up play and Armenteros a more agile and active participant in the attack. Neither are world beaters, and the day’s selection seems to have varied according to the game plan. Hazarding a guess, Armenteros seems the most likely selection against the Sounders for his ability to work wider, where Seattle is struggling.

The performance of the outside mids in the band of three -- Paredes in particular — has helped ease the transition load on Valeri and allowed him to operate farther up the pitch. That seems like it should be bad news for everyone, but it has had an upside. He’s spending less time on the ball; fewer touches and fewer passes with which to murder Sounders hopes and dreams. He’s still among the league leaders in key passes (33 on the season). He’s still by far their most dangerous player. What Savarese seems to have decided is a slightly limited Valeri is necessary to ensure maximum overall team offensive performance.

Quick keys

  • Open the field up - One-on-one defense is not their strong suit. The more spread out the Sounders can get the Timbers, the easier their passing should be.
  • Keep it together - Portland are good at sucking teams upfield and springing back at them when possession shifts. A repeat performance like last week’s from Osvaldo Alonso that tears the defense apart and leaves everybody else scrambling just isn’t going to cut it. If the first key is done, it will be extra important that the defensive side is well-connected.

How to Watch

Date/Time: June 30 @ 1:30 PM

Location: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA

TV: FOX

Streaming: YouTube TV

Radio: 950 KJR AM (English), El Rey 1360AM (Spanish)