CenturyLink Field plays host to a massive occasion on Sunday, when Sounders FC hosts rival Portland Timbers in front of an expected crowd of more than 63,000. The two sides are battling for playoff position in the Western Conference with just eight games remaining for each team.
Here are three positional battles that could be critical factors in Sunday’s match.
Chad Marshall vs. Lucas Melano
The Timbers added a new Designated Player this summer, bringing in 22-year-old Argentine forward Melano in late July. Portland signed him from Argentine club Lanus, the same team that fellow DP Diego Valeri played for before joining the Timbers. Melano is already being used up front as the lone striker in Portland’s 4-2-3-1 formation, recording a goal and an assist against Houston last week. On Sunday he will face a backline commanded by Marshall, the reigning MLS Defender of the Year.
Erik Friberg vs. Will Johnson
Friberg has settled in nicely after joining Seattle in June for a second stint with the club. In his last four games across all competitions, the Swedish midfielder recorded two assists and one goal from the central midfield spot. The Timbers will be short-handed in the midfield on Sunday, as defensive specialist Diego Chara is suspended due to the red card he picked up in their last match. It will be up to Johnson, the Portland captain and Canadian National Team member, to shut down Friberg.
Obafemi Martins vs. Portland centerbacks
This season the Timbers have proven to boast one of the top centerback duos in the league. With DP Liam Ridgewell and veteran Nat Borchers sitting behind the midfield combo of Johnson and Chara, Portland has recorded an MLS-high 11 shutouts thus far in 2015. Seattle counters with a star-studded group of strikers that consists of three Designated Players. The last time Sounders FC played at CenturyLink Field, Martins put on an absolute show with two goals in a 4-0 win over Orlando City SC.