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Five things we’ll be watching when Sounders visit Timbers

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Sounders will be facing a Timbers squad coming off a tough CCL defeat.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

As strong of a start as the Seattle Sounders are off to, this is no time to lighten up. The Sounders face their fiercest rivals this weekend in the Portland Timbers, at the start of a three-game week. Here are the five things we’d like to see this weekend.

Take advantage of short rest

The Timbers are coming off a tough run in the Concacaf Champions League after getting ousted by Club America. Last weekend the Timbers rotated heavily in their league matchup to rest their starters for Wednesday night, and it showed. Their 4-1 loss to previously winless FC Dallas left them with three points through three games. It’ll be interesting to see how the Timbers handle Sunday’s match with short rest, likely having to again rotate some of their starters out of the lineup. Notably, the Timbers have already used an MLS-high 21 starters, including all three of their goalkeepers. The Sounders must take advantage of a fatigued Timbers side, but must do so smartly. More on that in a bit. — Mark Kastner

Nico starting

Nicolas Lodeiro missed the first couple games of the season with an injury and made his first-ever substitute appearance for the Sounders last weekend. Stop for a second and think about how crazy that is? Anyways, if Nico is fully fit he needs to be in the starting XI against the Timbers.

If Nico does start, it creates an interesting tactical problem to solve. Cristian Roldan has been playing as a “Central Winger” (h/t Matt Doyle) in Nico’s absence. Roldan has had all the freedom in the world to find the attack while two more midfielders behind him are more poised to hold the shape. What happens when Nico and Cristian both start? Will Roldan need to play a more disciplined role? Hopefully, we find out on Sunday. — Mark Kastner

Brad Smith continues to fly high

Through the first two weeks, it was obvious that Brad Smith would be an important part of the Sounders attack. Despite some struggles, he was constantly putting himself in dangerous positions. Last week, it all clicked. Smith was even more aggressive with his runs and more accurate with his passing, scoring one goal after putting away his own rebound and assisting on another. Smith is already the top scorer in Fantasy MLS and there’s no reason he can’t put together another strong performance. — Jeremiah Oshan

Keep ‘em fresh

Knowing Brian Schmetzer, he’s going to put out the best possible lineup against the Timbers. But he absolutely needs to have an eye on the upcoming games as well when managing his subs. So far, Schmetzer has only opted to use four subs in each of the first four games. That’s due at least in part to having limited options. Schmetzer’s bench should be as stocked as it has been all season on Sunday and it would behoove him to go to it both early and often. Jimmy Medranda, Fredy Montero and Kelyn Rowe are all likely to be available, providing very little drop off from the starters and potentially keeping them fresh for the road ahead. — Jeremiah Oshan

Fans at Providence Park

This will mark the first time the Sounders have visited Providence Park with fans since Aug. 23, 2019. That was the game where both sets of supporters remained mostly silent through the first 33 minutes while protesting the ban of the Iron Front flag. There won’t be nearly as many fans there this time but they will surely be felt, the latest sign that we’re slowly moving toward normalcy.

“It will be nice to have some fans there,” Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “I’ve been down there for a full house, so I wouldn’t expect it to be anywhere near where it could be. I think overall sports, in general, is better with fans; our sport, in particular, is built on ebbs and flows. It gels really well with a crowd. [Fans] can feed off that, feed into that and become part of the game.” — Jeremiah Oshan