Portland and Seattle matches are always a big deal, but this Sunday there’s more than just crucial Cascadia Cup and MLS points at stake. There’s the chance to embarrass Clint Dempsey as he is introduced to the sold-out Seattle crowd. I can’t think of a better way to punk the Sounders.
Midfield is key in this matchup and Portland could be sorely lacking in depth. Most importantly, the Timbers will be missing Diego Chara due to yellow card accumulation. Chara is a vital cog in keeping the midfield moving. He wins balls and moves from box-to-box to open up space for Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, and Alvas Powell. Will Johnson will likely also miss the match as he continues to sit out of practice.
Adding on, both Ben Zemanski and Jack Jewsbury are tossups. Zemanski picked up a knock on Wednesday and has played quite a bit since last week. Jewsbury on the other hand has been working towards coming back after missing the last three games. I question his fitness though, after he didn’t make the 18 on Wednesday.
If Zemanski can’t go, Alhassan should get the start after scoring against Real Salt Lake. But what happens if Jewsbury also misses the match? Porter could decide to start Ryan Miller in place of Alvas Powell and move the 19-year-old up to a defensive midfield role. This keeps speed in the defensive mid and brings back some of the box-to-box threat lost due to Chara’s absence. Additionally, Porter could change to a 4-4-2 with Johnson and Jose Valencia up top.
Seattle is in the exact opposite situation, their midfield is bursting at the seams. They can plug and play seven players into their standard 4 mindfield spots when Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins are both healthy; and they should be healthy enough to face the Timbers.
First and foremost, Portland must keep track of Clint Dempsey. He has yet to tally either a goal or assist, but it’s only a matter of time before he does both. Once he learns how to play with the rest of the Sounders he could become the best player in MLS. Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins also cannot be ignored. While Dempsey has the name, Johnson and Martins have the goals. If Alvas Powell or Pa Modou Kah get caught ball watching Seattle won’t show mercy.
This match is a proving ground for the Timbers’ young squad. With core pieces gone, young players like Kalif Alhassan, Alvas Powell, Jose Valencia, and perhaps even Steven Evans will need to step up. If they can, it’ll be huge for them and the team’s playoff hopes. Three points puts Portland back into second place and keeps Seattle out of the action.
Portland Timbers: Donovan Ricketts; Michael Harrington; Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Pa Modou Kah, Alvas Powell; Rodney Wallace, Kalif Alhassan, Jack Jewsbury, Diego Valeri; Darlington Nagbe, Ryan Johnson
Seattle Sounders: Michael Gspurning; Leonardo Gonzalez Djimi Traore, Patrick Ianni, DeAndre Yedlin; Clint Dempsey, Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Mauro Rosales; Eddie Johnson, Obafemi Martins