The Seattle Sounders go into tonight’s game away to the Portland Timbers, on a terrible run of form. Two points gained from the last twelve available, and conceding nine goals in their last two games, certainly belies their current position of second in the MLS Western Conference, one point behind leaders, Real Salt Lake, albeit with a game in hand.
Since the 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls at CenturyLink Field two weeks ago, a game they should have won comfortably, Settle have been in free-fall. Two crushing defeats at the hands of the Colorado Rapids, and the Vancouver Whitecaps (1-5 and 4-1 respectively) leave the Sounders needing maximum points from their remaining three fixtures to win the Eastern Conference and the Supporters’ Shield, a tall order with victory required not only against the Timbers, but also against LA Galaxy, who are chasing an MLS Cup hat-trick this year.
Sounder’s record signing, Clint Dempsey, should be fit for the game, avoiding a call up to the USMNT’s squad, for the final World Cup qualifier, against Panama. The former Tottenham forward has been limited to just six appearances for the Rave Green, as he recovers from a hamstring injury. With Seattle’s top scorer, Eddie Johnson missing the trip to Portland, due to a groin injury, Dempsey should be due a start, after entering the fray from the substitute’s bench on Wednesday night.
The main problem for the past two games has been down to individual defensive errors. Goalkeeper Michael Gspurning is not without fault either, but has been left far too exposed by the newly rickety central defense in front of him. Sounder’s coach Sigi Schmidt prefers a high defensive line, to assist Seattle’s strong attack, but that has been left vulnerable, due to lack of pace in both DeAndre Yedlin and Djimi Traore. Both will need to be in good form on Sunday, against Darlington Nagbe, who scored again in last weekend’s 2-2 draw against Vancouver, to become the first player in Portland’s franchise history to score nine goals in a season.
Another issue for Seattle has been leaking early goals; they conceded their first against Colorado in only fourteen seconds, and in the first twelve minutes against Vancouver. The Sounders were not able to recover from either. If Portland takes an early lead, it could be a long night for Sigi Schmidt’s men, especially as the Timbers are unbeaten when they take the lead this season.
The other significance of this game, besides it being a straight up derby match, is that it is the final game in the Cascadia Cup this season. Whilst it fades in significance compared to play-off places, or the Supporters’ Shield, the Cascadia Cup is awarded each year to the best team in the Pacific Northwest. Last week’s victory by Vancouver leaves them in pole position, but a Seattle victory today would bring the title back to the Emerald City.
With so much at stake, the atmosphere at the Jeld-Wen Field is bound to be electric. A defeat for Seattle does not mean they are out of the running for the Supporters’ Shield, or a play-off place, but if they cannot raise themselves sufficiently for this game, one would have to question their desire under Schmidt.