When the Seattle Sounders host the Portland Timbers on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. PT; SoundersFC.com, KIRO Radio 97.3 FM, El Rey 1360AM | TICKETS) in the fourth round of the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the match will look considerably different than their previous meeting just two weeks ago.
The Sounders will be without a suspended Clint Dempsey and defenders Joevin Jones and Roman Torres, who are away on international duty for World Cup Qualifiers with Trinidad and Tobago and Panama, respectively. Forward Jordan Morris will likely be available, but he will have just returned from U.S. camp himself, so he may not factor.
Head coach Brian Schmetzer is confident Seattle will be ready to play with whomever he employs, but the biggest question facing the Sounders is against whom exactly they are going to line up. Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said last weekend he would probably bring a reserve squad from Portland to rest some of his better players and give his young kids, like U.S. youth international forward Jeremy Ebobisse, who just returned from the U-20 World Cup in South Korea, some valuable minutes.
“Some of these early-round Open Cup games, you never know who exactly is going to start, so can you fully scout them, can you do a full dossier about their team? No,” said Schmetzer. “That’s the biggest challenge. Are we going to mix and match our team? How may first-team guys are going to start? That’s always a little bit of a challenge. It’s easier to control what you can control, which is our team.”
The Sounders will likely sign multiple Sounders FC 2 players to four-day first-team contracts so they are eligible to play. This is a fairly routine practice especially since lower-division teams owned by higher-division clubs, like S2, are not eligible to participate in the tournament. Schmetzer will be receiving feedback from S2 head coach Ezra Hendrickson about which players he recommends get called up.
“Ezra’s done a great job with S2 this year,” said Schmetzer. “I think you can see by the results and the style of play they’re playing, so my job is pretty easy. I rely on Ezra for a lot of things, and he always checks in with me and tells me which of his players are doing well and which ones are not.”
The Sounders are Timbers have met four times in Open Cup play since Seattle joined MLS in 2009. The Sounders own a 3-1 record, but Portland won their last meeting in 2015.
A calm and pragmatic man, Schmetzer has preached “control the controllables” since he took over as head coach last July, and his approach to Tuesday’s match is no different. The Sounders will focus on their own available players and their own tactics and game plan accordingly.
“Our team will be good,” Schmetzer said, “our team will be right.”