Sunday's match is about much, much more than the result on the pitch.
The rivalry, which dates back to the 1970s, has created one of the best atmospheres in Major League Soccer, and FOX broadcaster Alexi Lalas is no stranger to the excitement and anticipation that surrounds these derby matches. As the two Cascadia teams look to climb the Western Conference, Lalas caught up with SoundersFC.com to talk about Sunday's match (12 p.m. PT; FOX; KIRO 97.3 FM, El Rey 1360AM).
SoundersFC.com: You've seen this rivalry play out over the last few seasons in MLS. What makes this match so special and so different?
Lalas: There’s almost two different games: there’s the one that supersedes whatever is actually happening in the context in the season, and then there’s the practical one of who needs the points. In this situation, you have two teams who haven't had successful seasons so far and they’re looking to jumpstart their season to a certain extent and get into the playoff zone.
Above and beyond all of that, you have what this rivalry has become. You have a Seattle team that has positioned themselves as an elite club and yet isn’t matching it this year with the performance and continual effort to get to the promised land, that their neighbors to the South did last year.
SoundersFC.com: For a team that's struggled offensively, how important was Wednesday's midweek win over Dallas?
Lalas: I think Sigi [Schmid] and the players will be confident having dismantled Dallas in the way they did. They’re also realistic, because they know they didn’t dismantle a first-team Dallas. They were also fortunate to be playing up a man for a good chunk of the game.
There’s a real positive in the amount of goals they scored, the different ways they scored and the players they scored. It's in the backdrop that while they've created chances over the year, they've failed to take those chances on a consistent basis. There’s got to be a sense of relief because they took the chances and finished them, even though we know the game on Sunday will be a very different opponent and environment.
SoundersFC.com: This isn't a team that's been struggling to find the chances, but they're having issues in the final third and completing those goal-scoring opportunities. Where do you think the solution will come from?
Lalas: Maybe we overestimated the overall quality of the Seattle team and underestimated the individual brilliance of the Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins tandem. Sigi Schmid has been around a long time. He knows that while you can certainly be happy that you are creating chances, he knows if you’re just creating them and not putting goals in the back of the net, it does no one any good...I don’t think they’ve sorted it out yet, but I’m also not telling them anything that they don’t know.
I don’t think there’s some silver bullet out there…they are a very different team than last year and they’re going to have to find a way – again without Clint Dempsey – to find goals against a team that’s probably licking their chops to get three points at home, especially against their biggest rival.
SoundersFC.com: This is Jordan Morris' first time competing against Portland in this rivalry match. How do you think he's stepped up so far this season?
Lalas: I think he deserves a tremendous amount of credit. I think he’s been everything and more than people expected and should have expected. It goes to the quality of player and person that he is and that this team has. This is a player that we know went through an incredible signing process and it was scrutinized. He’s been thrown into not just a starting position where his goals have been vital, but he’s also been asked to play in a formation that he’s unfamiliar with. He’s had to learn on the job, figure it out and score more goals more consistently than a lot of other players.
It shows he was worth the fight and worth the money. I’m excited to continue to ease him evolve for Seattle, for the league and for the national team.