Sounders FC hosts the Portland Timbers on Sunday in a nationally televised game on ESPN. The rivalry match has massive playoff implications, and here to break it all down is Taylor Graham, former Sounders defender and current broadcaster and Senior Director of Business Operations.
On the expected attendance of over 63,000:
It just presents an amazing opportunity. Very few players in their professional careers get to play in front of 60,000 fans. In Seattle, the players are fortunate to be able to do that more often than others. It adds an increased pressure, excitement and energy. The opportunity is great, but the responsibility is great too. You want to play well in front of all those people, because you want them to come back regularly.
On the reason for Seattle’s rough stretch in MLS play:
I think being goal-dangerous is something the team has struggled with over the course of the last six weeks. A lot of that comes with who’s not on the field, but soccer is a game with National Team call-ups, injuries and suspensions. The Sounders have always been consistent in the product they put on the field no matter who they’re playing. But when players have been give opportunities, that goal-dangerous attribute hasn’t been maintained. It’s very difficult to maintain when you lose the likes of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins.
On the Sounders’ lack of draws this season:
When the Sounders are playing well, there are very few teams that can compete with them. So I think that attributes to a lot of the wins, while lack of consistency probably equates to more losses and less ties. Sometimes you need to grind out results, and that means getting a point on the road. The inability to be consistent with that has created some challenges.
On the importance on the Portland match:
Even before you get to the summer, this is one of the games that was asterisked on your calendar. It’s the Portland rivalry, and now you’re looking at what’s probably the tightest conference race in MLS history. Hopefully we’re going to see a lot of players returning this weekend. We could maybe have the opportunity to field our best XI. Now the question is, if we are fortunate to get all those bodies on the field, how do you maximize that talent? What formation are you using with a group that hasn’t played together?
Portland is a relatively unchanged side. They’ve got one addition in Lucas Melano, but for the most part, you know how they’re going to play and what their strengths are. The Sounders are a little bit more of an unknown entity with the new faces trying to gel and players coming back, combined with not too many training sessions to spend time together. There’s huge, huge upside, but still some uncertainly about how that final product is going to come together.