Spotlight on Sounders, Timbers in Sunday Derby

First meeting of 2015 sees Seattle, Portland in tight early race in West
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, April 24, 2015

US Soccer Federation (USSF)

It’s that time again, when the eyes of the soccer world turn to Cascadia and the derby that has become among the glamor dates in every MLS season.

Seattle vs. Portland. That’s all that needs to be said.

Another crowd of around 40,000 will flock to CenturyLink Field on Sunday night for the match, to be televised on Fox Sports 1. Numerous buses will be coming up from Portland, as members of the Timbers Army will come north to face their most hated rivals. Sounders fans will be showing up around the stadium throughout the day, and the March to the Match will signal the beginning of the in-stadium fun.

It’s the biggest rivalry in MLS. That goes without saying, as even a fan poll on the league website confirmed that. The international soccer magazine FourFourTwo proclaimed Seattle-Portland as one of the top derbies in the world. It’s a big deal, no matter when this is happening.

As with much of the MLS history of this rivalry, Seattle will enter the match above Portland in the standings, but only by a single point in a tightly-bunched Western Conference (Seattle has 10, while Portland has 9). Both are coming off of big road wins, with the Sounders winning at Colorado 3-1 on Saturday, while Portland went to Yankee Stadium and got past New York City FC 1-0 on Sunday. Both have won two of their last three matches.

There is one thing that’s unusual with this edition of the rivalry. It’s where the third Cascadia club is in the table, and Vancouver is on top of MLS with 16 points. That’s 6 points ahead of Seattle and 7 up on Portland. Since all three Northwest clubs have been together in MLS, the Sounders have traditionally been at the top of the Western Conference, except for the Timbers’ amazing 2013. Even as the Whitecaps have won the Cascadia Cup, and they have for the last two seasons, they haven’t been above either Seattle or Portland in the MLS standings. So that the Sounders and Timbers are playing catch-up to Vancouver hasn’t been seen since the A-League days of the last decade.

It has been an interesting season so far for the I-5 rivals. Seattle has played only 6 matches, so their 10 points (3-2-1) probably is better than what the standings show. A win on Sunday would be big, not just because it’s Portland, but it would be a vital boost heading into a three-game road trip that takes the Sounders to New York City, Columbus and Vancouver. With Lamar Neagle scoring twice last week, and the duo of Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey becoming arguably the most dangerous combo in MLS, it seems like a matter of time before Seattle finds their way to the top of the West.

Meanwhile, Portland seems like they may finally be figuring themselves out. After what’s become the traditional winless March (the only year the Timbers won a match in March in their MLS history was 2012), there are glimmers of hope. The defense, much maligned in 2014, has gotten better with Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell becoming a solid tandem at center back in front of Adam Kwarasey. The offense is still inconsistent, with Fanendo Adi the only Portland player with multiple goals this season. But with Will Johnson and Diego Valeri not far from returning to the club (Johnson is scheduled to play with Portland Timbers 2 in the USL this weekend), things could be looking up.

This is also the first of two straight Cascadia matches for the Timbers, as they host Vancouver nest week at Providence Park. So there’s much at stake for Portland, and a solid draw, or even a win, in Seattle would be a massive boost to their slow-starting season. The last time Portland defeated Seattle was in the 2013 MLS playoffs, so fans in the Rose City likely believe that their team is due for a win in the Emerald City.

We mentioned the tight Western Conference earlier, and both Portland and Seattle are in the middle of that. Two points separate Los Angeles, Seattle, San Jose, Houston, Real Salt Lake, Portland and Sporting Kansas City in the table, with the Galaxy in third and SKC in ninth. Every point gained will shake things up, and a win can spring either Seattle or Portland up above the other teams in the group. That depends on the others in the conference, of course, and by time Seattle-Portland begins on Sunday night, they’ll know exactly where they stand.

And after Sunday night, both Seattle and Portland will know where they stand, on two fronts. It’s not just the Western Conference standings, but also the Cascadia Cup standings, that will be looked at on Monday morning. A draw means Vancouver gets that little bit farther ahead, so even in April, a single point isn’t ideal. A win springs either the Sounders or Timbers into the upper parts of the conference and sharing the top of the Cascadia Cup table with the Whitecaps (who already defeated Portland at BC Place earlier this season).

Then again, for 90 minutes, none of that will matter. It’s Seattle-Portland. It’s Cascadia. That’s all one needs to get excited for Sunday night.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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