Buoyed by hot start, Seattle Sounders ready to test mettle in rivalry road match at Portland Timbers

Joao Paulo vs Minnesota 5-8-21

The Seattle Sounders enter Week 4 of the 2021 Major League Soccer season as the top team in the league after a blistering start to the campaign. Perhaps most impressive about this opening, the shift to a new formation notwithstanding, has been the quality of opponents that Seattle has done it against.

The Sounders’ first three matches were a gauntlet, first facing a Minnesota United team that was hungry for redemption after watching the Western Conference Championship slip away last season at Lumen Field. Then the Sounders traveled to Los Angeles and came back with a well-earned road point against LAFC before dispatching the LA Galaxy and shutting down MLS’ most in-form forward in Chicharito.

“It’s been a good start because we haven’t had an easy schedule really,” said goalkeeper Stefan Frei. “We’ve faced some tough tests…You’re enjoying your football. You’re enjoying going to the locker room. People are buzzing. There’s always going to be ups and downs, every season has that. But why not start on a high?”

Part of this immediate success has been the buy-in from players. The coaching staff tried to devise a system that would maximize the talent available to them, and it’s already bearing fruit in the elevated play of Alex Roldan, Brad Smith, Nouhou and Will Bruin to name a few. This team has reached a different gear, and it’s only going to improve.

Buoyed by hot start, Seattle Sounders ready to test mettle in rivalry road match at Portland Timbers -

“[Players have] realized really early on that it can help them to have good games as individuals,” said Frei. “If you put players in positions where they can utilize their strengths the most, they’re going to enjoy it because they’re going to be more successful.”

The Sounders now get yet another major test when they travel to Portland to take on the Timbers on Sunday (12 p.m. PT; ABC, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM) with a valuable three points on the line against their most bitter enemy.

“I really love this game against Portland because it’s organic,” said Frei. “It has geographical history behind it.”

The Timbers are in the middle of a stretch where they’re playing five matches in 15 days, including playing at altitude at Mexico’s Club América midweek in Concacaf Champions League. Portland bowed out of the competition in the quarterfinals, losing 3-1 on the night and 4-2 on aggregate, and will be eager to take out its frustrations on Seattle, something of which Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer is keenly aware.

“This could be the best thing for Portland because they’re coming back into league play, and who do they get first? It’s their archrival, plus they’re going to have fans in the building,” said Schmetzer. “There are so many storylines for [Timbers Head Coach] Gio [Savarese] to latch onto to get his team motivated. Mine has been one of warning. Yeah, we’ve played well the first three games, but this is tough week.”

Buoyed by hot start, Seattle Sounders ready to test mettle in rivalry road match at Portland Timbers -

As Schmeter alluded to, an added element to this rivalry that was missing last year returns, as Providence Park will allow a limited number of fans into the building. While it won’t be the raucous sold out crowds that usually pack Providence Park and Lumen Field for these matches, it still signals a move toward normalcy.

“Regardless of the fans, these games have always been competitive,” said Savarese on Friday. “There is that desire to make sure that we prevail, each team…It’s a great rivalry. There’s mutual respect from the players, from the coaching staff, but once we start and the whistle blows, we’re ready to want to win. These games never disappoint. But when the fans are in the stands, there’s more energy, there’s more passion, there’s an extra component that brings these games to a different level.”

Schmetzer welcomes that challenge and is heading south this weekend with only one thing in mind.

“I don’t care if it’s early or late, it’s still a rival, we still need three points,” he said. “Nothing’s been settled yet.

“We are not going to sit back. We’re going to press high and try and take the game to them. We’re going to treat it like a normal home game for us.”



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