There’s no question the three previous encounters between the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers this year have felt a little off. Without fans in the stands, one of the rivalry’s biggest selling points — the atmosphere — has been completely absent. The matches themselves have been competitive enough; even in the one the Sounders won 3-0, the match was close until late.
But this game promises to have a bit more bite, if only because first place in the Western Conference is on the line.
“Take the fans, put that aside. It matters to the players, it matters to the staff,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. Timbers coach Gio Savarese “is a nice a guy, I keep telling you guys, he’s a really nice guy, great coach. But don’t think that the handshakes are very easy after we lose. Or don’t think him having to come across to me after we beat them 3-0 down there — don’t think that was easy for him, because it’s not.”
Here are five things we’d like to see:
Stay in first
The Sounders and Timbers have faced each other 28 times in the MLS regular season since 2011. They’ve never before faced off when they were 1-2 in the standings. That changes tonight.
The Sounders and Timbers are level on points with 31 apiece. The Sounders have gotten there with one fewer game played and likely have the tiebreaker if it were to come down to that, since they’ve got a 10-goal lead in goal-difference.
With about three weeks remaining in the regular season, this match will likely go a long way toward deciding the top seed in the Western Conference. - JO
Win at home
We’ve written previously about how this rivalry is in a bit of a funky phase where the home team usually loses the matchup. Portland managed to buck that trend even though they played like the away team for 90 minutes. Well, it’s time to return the favor and get a win at home against the Timbers. A result of any kind would also allow the Sounders to avoid the ignominy of losing to the Timbers three-straight times for the first time in the MLS era. - MK
Break the bunker
The last time the Sounders and Timbers played, Cristian Roldan accused them of “sitting deeper at home than any team we’ve faced other than the Whitecaps.” That struck a lot of Timbers fans as a particularly salty comment, if not an outright excuse. Hyperbole or not, Roldan wasn’t all that wrong. For most of the year, the Timbers have only held the possession advantage in three of the 12 games they’ve played since MLS is Back. That includes their two previous meetings with the Sounders when they had just 35% and 33% in their two wins. Expect more of the same tonight and the Sounders are going to have resist the urge to fall into the trap of aimlessly lobbing in crosses. - JO
Cage the midfield
Portland loves to transition quickly from their deep block into attack. Their midfield usually consists of Diego Valeri, Eryk Williamson, and Diego Chara. Their central midfielders have license to float around and they’re all very capable passers. When the Timbers are on, it’s usually because their midfield is getting into interesting and dangerous spots. The Sounders can’t let that happen if they want to get the three points. Keep the midfield tight, foul them if you need to, and find a path to victory. - MK
Will Bruin score?
The dancing bear has done a really good job of deputizing for Raul Ruidiaz’s while the Peruvian has been away. Reports suggest that Ruidíaz could be back in time for the Vancouver match next week, so Bruin’s starting run might be coming to an end. Let’s make sure Bruin scores before he goes back to being a sub. - MK