PORTLAND — For the most ardent supporters of the Portland Timbers and of Seattle Sounders FC, the results of today’s clash at Jeld-Wen Field will have a lasting impact. It will provide fuel for online chat rooms and for pub stool coaches long after the final whistle.
A rivalry that dates back 35 years is renewed on Portland soil today, the first time since Aug. 22, 1982 that the two clubs have clashed in the Rose City as equals in America’s top soccer league.
If there’s a winner today, the bragging rights won’t last for decades. However, barring a playoff meeting, this will be the last Sounders-Timbers match of 2011.
On the eve of this mammoth clash, Timbers coach John Spencer tried to bring a bit of perspective to the party.
“It’s not the end of the world if we lose the game. We’ve not won the World Cup if we win the game,” Spencer said. “Three points (a win) would be great for us. It would get us back on track.”
Defender Mamadou Danso, who scored Portland’s goal in the May 14 draw at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field when it was known as Qwest Field, said the buzz leading into this match seemed to energize his teammates, who haven’t celebrated a win since May 21.
“I would say the team hasn’t been this (up) since we started losing. It’s good to see everybody happy and excited for the game,” Danso said.
A victory over Seattle could do wonders for a Portland team that has one tie and five losses in its last six games.
“These games are totally different from other games just because of the intense rivalry,” Spencer said. “You could be on a 10-game losing streak, and you just know that you don’t want to lose at home (to your rival) so you can get that little extra out of yourself.”
Seattle is on a seven-game unbeaten streak (four wins), and has two wins and three draws in its last five road games.
Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said his philosophy is to play the same style on the road as at home, a consistent approach he said generates confidence.
Confidence is the key to Seattle’s recent run, Portland’s Spencer said.
“Confidence plays a big part in most teams in Major League Soccer. I think that’s why you see teams go on an unbeaten streak and then they go on a losing streak,” Spencer said. “I think players in this country lose confidence very quickly. The only way you’re going to get yourself back to being confident as a player is by playing well.
“The fans can’t do that for you. Your coaching staff can’t do it. It comes from within. You’ve got to have that inner desire to put an end to your poor run of form and get back to your winning ways.”
An early goal would help Spencer’s Timbers. Portland scored the first goal in each of its five victories, but in none of its other 11 matches. A 13th-minute goal from Jack Jewsbury in the April 17 win over FC Dallas is the only time the Timbers have tallied in the first 20 minutes of a match. They have only three goals inside the first half hour of play, and only seven before halftime.
But Spencer isn’t planning a fiery pregame speech today.
“This is one of those easy games to coach,” Spencer said. “I should be able to come into the locker room 10 minutes before the game and go, ‘Good luck, guys,’ and walk out. You shouldn’t need to inspire anybody for a game like this.”