For the third time this season, the Seattle Sounders will be shaking off the rust of an extended time off to return to action. They’ll have their work cut out for them. The Portland Timbers are fresh off winning the MLS is Back Tournament, where the Sounders went 1-1-1 in the group stage before being bounced in the Round of 16 by LAFC. The Timbers, on the other hand, went 5-0-2. Here are five things we’re hoping to see when they renew their rivalry:
Enjoy the silence
By now, you’d think MLS teams are reasonably well-versed in playing without crowds. Still, Sunday’s game is going to be different, as it marks the first time either the Sounders or Timbers have played in front of an empty home stadium. The closest analogue may be the last time the Sounders visited Portland. That was back on Aug. 23, 2019 when ECS and the Timbers Army sat in silence for 33 minutes to protest the ban of the Iron Front flag. As you might remember, the Sounders were the only team to score during that quiet period and they went on to win the game 2-1. While it’s possible and maybe even likely that the Timbers will pump in some crowd noise, we can safely say the environment will not be nearly as tense as when there are 20,000-plus screaming from the opening minute through stoppage time. It’s a great chance to take advantage.
Keep it tidy at the back
The Sounders will be without Xavier Arreaga for at least the match against the Timbers. That means Shane O’Neill will likely slot in next to Yeimar Andrade Gomez. So far this season the backline hasn’t been a strong point for Seattle, and it’ll be tough against a high flying Portland. It would be nice to get a shutout, but we’d like to see a “bend-and-not-break” mentality from Seattle.
Get Raul Going
Raul Ruidiaz had a really, really quiet MLS is Back Tournament. Not what we’ve come to expect from the big-game player, who has scored just one goal from open play in his past 10 regular-season games dating to last year. The Sounders will need to get Raul going if they want to beat Portland. The better the Sounders are in possession in deeper areas, the more Raul can stay higher up. If he starts dropping deep to get involved, it could be a long night.
Let’s see the Paulo y Lodeiro connection
Barring a last-minute setback, Nicolas Lodeiro and João Paulo will play together for the first time this season. João Paulo adds a press-resistant, deep-lying playmaker to an already dangerous attack. His presence on the field means Nico can be higher up the field at times and that could spell trouble for Portland’s shaky backline.
Third time’s the charm
The Sounders carry a two-game winning streak at Providence Park into this match, having not lost there since May 13, 2018. You’d have to go all the way back to the days of the Western Soccer Alliance to find the last — and only — time Seattle won three straight times in Portland, when the Seattle Storm pulled off that feat against FC Portland in 1987-1988. Suffice it to say, winning three straight in Portland is a pretty tall task. Sure would be nice to make a bit of history on Sunday.