Home-field advantage is a very real thing, especially in MLS, where the home team wins about 53% of the time. That’s among the most significant advantages in all of world soccer.
The Seattle Sounders have been even better, winning more than 59% of their home games in league play ever since they joined MLS in 2009.
Those stats only serve to underscore just how strange the recent results between the Sounders and Timbers have been.
Over their last 11 meetings, the home team in this rivalry game is a rather astonishing 1-9-1 during the regular season, meaning they’ve won just 9% of games. In that span, the Sounders are 0-4-1 at Lumen Field and haven’t beaten the Timbers there in the regular season since 2017. They are, however, 5-1-0 at Providence Park over the same period. That’s in contrast to the home team’s 13-2-6 (62%) record during their first 21 meetings of the MLS era.
The Sounders will be hoping to put a stop this period of home-field disadvantage on Saturday when they host the Timbers in front of what should be their biggest crowd of the season.
“We addressed that pretty heavily the last couple of days,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer told reporters on Friday. “How do we counteract that? What do we need to do to be better than Portland on Saturday? We’ve addressed it.”
As to what explains this oddity, no one seems to have much to offer.
“I have no answer for you, I wish I did,” Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “It’s strange indeed. I remember going to Portland and celebrating a draw like it was one of the biggest wins of the year, but the last few years we’ve been able to get wins down there and they win up here. They’re awesome games.”
Last year’s three meetings provided a fair summation of the recent history of this rivalry. The Sounders won the first meeting at Providence Park, 2-1, behind goals from Raúl Ruidíaz and Fredy Montero. They followed that up with the biggest blowout of the MLS era, a resounding 6-2 win at Providence Park. But when the rivalry returned to Seattle, the Timbers managed to score a 2-0 win that effectively sparked a season-ending stretch in which they went 12-3-2, culminating with a trip to MLS Cup.
Nearly as remarkable as this reverse home-field advantage is the way these two teams have dominated the Western Conference. Since 2015, the West has only been represented in MLS Cup by one of these two teams and they’ve collectively only missed the playoffs once during that time (2016, when the Timbers missed the playoffs by just two points following their MLS Cup win). You’d have to go all the way back to 2011 to find the last time at least one of them didn’t advance as far as the Western Conference finals.
The Sounders, of course, raised the standard just a little more earlier this year when they became the first MLS team to win Concacaf Champions League. They’ll be reminding the Timbers of that on Saturday when they celebrate the title with a full day of activities that includes raising the championship banner and wearing the CCL winner’s patch.
“Our front office decided to dump a little extra fuel on it. I appreciate that guys,” Frei said with a slight chuckle.
He later offered another analogy: “It’s important to turn all that off before the game, during the preparation phase. You can’t let all those distractions pull you away.
“As a player, you try to avoid the circus. I know there are a few guys who thrive in that environment, but they’re the anomalies. I think most athletes prefer structure, prefer routines. When you have a lot of circus, it’s all trying to pull you out of that.”