Seattle Sounders FC will prepare to face the Portland Timbers on Sunday knowing that the players slotting into the midfield for Portland are going to be less than the ideal. Diego Chara is out with yellow card accumulation. Will Johnson, Ben Zemanksi and Jack Jewsbury are all listed as day-to-day.
There are questions about who to play, not about style. Caleb Porter is very much a systems coach. After Saturday’s practice Sigi Schmid indicated he thought Will Johnson would play. But, Johnson did not practice in full, so questions remain.
“I don’t think their injuries matter from the standpoint that they are going to play the same sort of system,” Schmid said. “Our anticipation is that Will Johnson will be back, so yeah, they lost Chara but they get back another starter in Will Johnson so it’s sort of the same way they’ve been playing the last couple of weeks.”
The Timbers midfield depth will be tested as three regular starters battle injury. Dipping into the bench may change the quality of the players, but will not change what they are supposed to do.
“They have their 4-2-3-1 that they like to play," said Schmid. "Valeri plays in that hole. Wallace is comfortable on the left and Nagbe is comfortable on the right so it’s a team with not really a lot of changes. Those two holding midfielders have a very defined job and supporting roles for them. So changing those players doesn’t really change the role or the function of the team.”
One of the two will not get quite as forward, but there will be gaps for Seattle to exploit.
Timbers average positions against Salt Lake via WhoScored.com
This will be particularly true if the Sounders have someone drop into the space between the high forward and Alonso. That could be recent signing Clint Dempsey or Obafemi Martins depending on health and how the match develops. The space will be most apparent on a quick counter after a turnover.
Where the Timbers will have depth players in those key defensive roles, Seattle will be trying to figure out how to use all the offensive power at once. In that band it will be a contest of familiar but infrequent against the world class but still learning each other.
Each side can spin that as an advantage over the rival, but the fact is that when Seattle is in possession the way that space just outside of the Timbers area gets used could define the match. Just one mental error by a less seasoned Timber against a well seasoned Sounder could be enough.