Yes, the Seattle Sounders crushed Portland when they last met. That 6-2 win may be burned in the memories of fans, but players and coaches tend to look forward more than backward. The Portland Timbers need to rebound, as they are on the edge of the red line, rather than the edge of the home-game-in-playoffs line where prognosticators expected in preseason.
Each team is also healthier than they were all the way back two weeks ago. That should mean a better match for observers on ESPN (7:30 PM PT). Fans in the stadium will be treated to their second rivalry match of the day, and that spectacle could even get in the heads of players for all four teams.
For Stumptown Footy, Sam answers Three Questions
SaH: How much is the spectacle of the doubleheader percolating into fan perceptions down in Portland?
STF: I think it’s definitely having an influence, insofar as it’s raising the profile of the whole thing a bit. I know it’s being hyped up in Seattle, and in Portland I think the goal is to come up and rain on the whole parade (apologies for the pun). Everyone can tell it is a big moment in its own right, and it could be a pivotal moment for both clubs. For the Thorns it’s a chance to truly grab hold of the mantle of the best team in the NWSL this year and pad their lead at the top of the table, and for the Timbers it’s a chance to prove that this season can still be salvaged. The fact that if they prove those things it would be against their grandest of rivals, on the grandest of occasions, only ups the anticipation and energy level all the more.
SaH: Majority owner Merritt Paulson gave a vote of confidence to both GM Gavin Wilkinson and head coach Giovanni Savarese. Does that raise the pressure on the squad to perform in order for those two to keep their jobs?
STF: That interview was definitely… enlightening. My main takeaway was that MP still thinks there’s runway for the Timbers to turn their season around (which is true), that this team as constructed has the talent to compete and be a playoff team in MLS (also true), and that Savarese still is able to be one to pull it all together to turn things around (which based on the season this far is… TBD). I don’t think that necessarily raises the pressure any higher than what it has already been for this team — they know the level they want to be at, and what the aspirations for this season still are. The squad knows that the season thus far has not been good enough. Drastic change doesn’t seem likely for now, and this group as its constructed is going to be given a chance to go to the well once more and lift themselves off the mat. They’ve done that in seasons past (2015 and 2018 come to mind), and so I think the squad understands what they have to do and why they have to do it.
SaH: Is there a player you need to see perform well in order to think that the Timbers are back to a home-game-in-playoffs quality side most expected in preseason?
STF: That’s been the most frustrating thing about this season and the downturn: it really hasn’t been one individual player’s performance who is causing, or can directly improve, all the problems. Many of Portland’s issues have been in their on-field organization and defensive alertness, which are both things that permeate every position group and every player. But if there is one player who can at least start to lift the spirits and effort level of this team, it’s Sebastian Blanco. He has been the heart and soul of the Timbers for the past few years, and he’s been limited for most of the season as he comes back from an ACL tear. If can reach the height of his powers, and start scoring goals and influencing the flow of the game on the field as the Blanco of old did, then it will be a dynamic lift for just the energy level and morale of the team, which could be a big step to fixing everything else.
Check out their reverse questions, Thorns preview, and Timbers preview throughout the weekend.