There are matchdays, and then there are Seattle vs. Portland matchdays.
Heading into the 99th installment of the Sounders-Timbers rivalry (6:30 p.m. PT kickoff; FS1; KIRO Radio 97.3 FM and El Rey 1360AM; TICKETS), there is even more on the line with the Sounders currently holding the top spot in the Western Conference by one point over none other than the Timbers.
“I know they [the players] all say that they don’t look at the standings, and we as coaches say we don’t look at the standings, but we all look at the standings,” said Head Coach Brian Schmetzer after Saturday’s training session at Starfire Sports Complex. “We know what it’s about. It’s Cascadia Cup. It’s Portland. It’s first place. Everybody is aware of it.”
First-year Sounder Will Bruin missed the first home match vs. Portland in May with a dislocated elbow, played in the match at Portland a month later, and is eager to face the Timbers in front of a raucous home crowd for the first time.
The seventh-year player who had only suited up for the Houston Dynamo before arriving in Seattle, acknowledged the Texas Derby between the Dynamo and FC Dallas, and said Cascadia rivalries take it to another level.
“It’s so much more intense and you feel it more as a player when you walk out on the field because everyone’s into it and the fans on both sides are so passionate about it,” said Bruin. “You want to play and win for your city so I think that’s what drives it and gets everyone going.”
Lately, Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri has been driving Portland up the standings with his on-field performances. The Argentine has scored in each of the last five matches, recently scored his 50th all-time goal for the Timbers, and according to Schmetzer, is a player the Sounders have to find a way to defend.
“This year up front he’s been lights out as far as some of the goals he’s scored,” said Schmetzer. “He’s had a really good year. He’s a tremendous player and he will take a joint effort by a lot of people to slow him down.”
Aside from Valeri, and the fact that the Sounders are preparing for their third match in eight days, don’t expect to see any slowdown from the Rave Green.
“The staff has done really well at making sure the guys are feeling good,” said Bruin. “I think it’s a great opportunity for us – one and two – and we can separate ourselves a little bit going into the final stretch.”