The biggest broadcast weekend in American soccer history features the biggest rivalry in US soccer, and the only rivalry that deserves mention with the greatest derbies in the world. Sunday’s match is not just about a feeling “deeper than hate.” The two teams are the best in the West since 2014. The last time Seattle Sounders or Portland Timbers didn’t make a Concacaf Champions League appearance was 2013. One of the two have been in MLS Cup from 2015 to the present.
With ABC taking this as their second match of a broadcast double-header, the eyes of the nation will be on the forever surging Sounders and the late-starting Timbers. Though the match is not part of the Cascadia Cup, the two teams will treat it as vital to their seasons.
From Stumptown Footy, Kyle answers Three Questions.
SaH: With a game at elevation and a long plane flight, there has to be some question about fitness, especially for the older stars. How will Savarese handle the needs for squad rotation and load management?
STF: I would expect there to be some load management and rotation, especially with this marking the fourth game over the span of 12 days or so. As you mentioned, it’s no cakewalk trying to play at Estadio Azteca, so Gio would be smart to give some guys a little rest. I would expect to either see some regular starters – like Diego Valeri – sit for the first half and come on as subs or start only to get subbed out early depending on the trajectory of the match.
SaH: The biggest offseason moves for Portland were along the backline. Two starters left for the LAs. Who are the new guys and will they help correct the average defense of yesteryear?
STF: Josecarlos Van Rankin and Claudio Bravo are the new fullbacks for Portland, and results have been somewhat mixed. Van Rankin has looked solid, operating in the fashion that Savarese likes by coming up often into the attacking third to help the offense. Bravo does that also, but has struggled defensively. He loses guys on the side of the field often and has committed some boneheaded fouls to start the year (two fouls against Club America in both legs gave the Liga MX side penalty opportunities that they took full advantage of). Van Rankin has been solid for the most part, but hopefully Bravo will get adjusted sooner rather than later.
SaH: Is 2021 the last run for this core? The Diegos are both 35. Who will take over as they fade away?
STF: Ah, the eternal question of “Is this the end?” To be honest, I’m not sure. Diego Chara still looks solid in the midfield and Diego Valeri has struggled occasionally with long passes, but still looks like El Maestro more or less. I thought last year would give us a good indication of where they stand, and last year they were pretty darn good as always, so I think until they have an extended stretch of bad play it’s safe to assume they’ll stick around for a bit. As for who will take over when they’re gone … your guess is as good as mine. There was hope that Tomas Conechny would be the prodigal son who takes over for El Maestro, but with Conechny’s departure that is obviously not the case. Chara will just keep playing until someone forces him off the pitch. Eryk Williamson is probably the closest we have in terms of a Chara replacement with his stellar box-to-box play. I’m not sure who their successors are; all I know is that Dos Diegos are here now and contributing.