When the Seattle Sounders host the Portland Timbers on Sunday, the team will be ready for all of the extra hype and pressure that accompany the biggest derby in American soccer.
Sitting second in the MLS Western Conference, the Rave Green are hopeful that a win on Sunday will catalyze dominant second half of the season.
“It’s always a big rivalry game,” said Homegrown winger Jordan Morris. “For us, I think it’s just the same message coming at home, trying to get three points and keep climbing up the standings. I have some good memories [from Sounders-Timbers matches]. They’re a very good team, so it will be a tough match.”
Matches like Sunday are about more than the game on the field. It’s a battle between two cities, two regional rivals vying for supremacy in the Pacific Northwest.
From a soccer perspective, it’s a contest between two diametrically opposed playing styles. The Sounders utilize prolonged possession and numerical overloads in different parts of the field to unbalance opponents. The Timbers, on the other hand, like to sit deep and absorb pressure before quickly exploiting gaps in the opponent’s shape to score goals on the counter.
It’s a familiar cliché in soccer that goals change games. But given the Timbers’ tactical identity, that old adage rings especially true.
“If we can score first, [draw] first blood, we can make them come out of their preferred way of playing,” said Sounders FC Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “They love the transition game. But if you score first or score a second, then they have to start opening up and come out, and that might lead to a good result for us.”
With their towering center backs, ground-covering midfielders and quick, technical attacking players, the Timbers were built for counter-attacking soccer. While the Sounders are confident that their preferred method of wide overloads and rehearsed off-the-ball movement will win out on the day, they remain cognizant of the threat Portland poses if they turn the ball over.
“I think some smart fouls here and there would be really good for us,” said Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei. “Just our defensive shape when we’re in possession. They come quite deep in their own box when they defend at times, and I think sometimes, maybe, you can get sucked into over committing.”
“I think our overall shape defensively when we’re in possession is going to be key for our center backs,” he added. “Especially if we’re attacking over on one side, the outside back on the other side is tucking in and giving us cover.”
Sunday’s match extends beyond the league table or bragging rights in the rivalry, as a victory for Seattle would clinch the 2019 Cascadia Cup. As the reigning champions of the regional competition, the team is eager to retain the title.
“I would say the reason why this is a big game is, if we win, we win the Cascadia Cup,” said Frei. “That’s what we should be focused on, winning a trophy. It’s a trophy for the fans. Ultimately, you are here to win things, so this is an opportunity do that.”
With three points, a trophy and bragging rights on the line, expect plenty of fireworks at CenturyLink Field on Sunday (6:30 p.m. PT; FS1, YouTube TV, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360AM | TICKETS)