The restarted MLS season has gone about as well as the Seattle Sounders could have hoped ... with one notable exception. The Sounders’ only loss since the restart is to the Portland Timbers, the team they face tonight at Providence Park.
Here’s what we’re thinking about heading into the game:
Extend the streak at Providence
The Sounders have now won three straight regular-season matches in Portland. That was the first time either team had ever won three straight road meetings in the history of this rivalry ... until the Timbers did the same thing a couple weeks ago. The last few years of this rivalry have been odd, to say the least.
At least in the last couple meetings, the decline in home-field advantage is somewhat explained by the lack of fans in the stands. In fact, the Timbers have yet to win at Providence Park since the season restarted and their record there this year is just 1-3-1 dating back to March. - JO
Long live the future king
No one seems to enjoy facing the Timbers more than Raúl Ruidíaz. In seven career meetings, Ruidíaz has already scored seven goals and added two assists. The last time they played, however, Ruidíaz was kept off the scoresheet for just the second time. Considering his recent form — he’s got seven goals and three assists in his past seven regular-season matches — it seems like a solid bet that he’ll be involved in the scoring. Unlikely as it is, a hat trick would pull him even with Clint Dempsey for the all-time individual goals leader in this rivalry. - JO
Don’t fall for Portland’s rotating trap
The Timbers have constructed their roster to have multiple top-level players in attacking areas of the pitch. For instance, two of their DPs are attacking midfielders and Diego Valeri is a TAM player. For their No. 9 position, they have Jaroslaw Niezgoda on a DP contract, Felipe Mora on a TAM contract, and rising domestic star Jeremy Ebobisse. They made seven lineup changes between their last two matches. This could make it hard to prepare for the personnel on the field, but regardless, Portland’s setup remains the same. They want to hit you on the break. The Sounders can’t fall for this trap. - MK
Nouhou’s time to sink or swim
It’s obviously very exciting that Brad Smith has returned to Seattle. The prospect of him adding to this attack is mouthwatering. However, both head coach Brian Schmetzer and general manager Garth Lagerwey have said that Smith isn’t necessarily a nailed-on starter at LB once he’s finished with quarantine. So far this season, Nouhou has been the most frequent starter at the position, and he’s the one who has the most to lose with the addition of Smith to the roster.
The recipe for Nouhou to keep the starting spot is pretty simple — play well. That means continuing to play lockdown defense while continuing to show improvement on the offensive end. It would be nice to see Nouhou produce some attacking numbers against Portland. - MK
Stop Diego Valeri
Despite Portland’s robust roster with multiple high-level attacking players, a lot of their success still rests solely on the shoulders of their maestro, Diego Valeri. Portland has only lost once this season when he starts for them, and that was the Sounders’ 3-0 win against the Timbers in August. Valeri’s not what he once was, but he’s still a very good player. If the Sounders can successfully shut him down, they have a fantastic chance at winning. - MK