The Portland Timbers are five points and four places ahead of the Seattle Sounders in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference.
Yet head coach Caleb Porter calls his Timbers underdogs heading into Sunday’s Cascadia Cup match at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
Given the possible player shortage in midfield for Portland, the fact that the Timbers are playing their third match in eight days while the Sounders had seven days to rest — and the energy Seattle will gain from 66,000 partisans welcoming Clint Dempsey — Porter’s position seems reasonable.
And the underdog role is one Porter is happy to accept.
The coach likes the way his club has played as underdogs, pointing to wins at FC Kansas City and FC Dallas and a road draw against Los Angeles.
“The nice thing going into this game is we’re probably the underdog again. Obviously (the Sounders) have one of the most talented teams in the league. They were one of the most talented teams in the league without Dempsey,” Porter said.
Not that the Timbers coach was selling his team short.
“I’m confident that we’ll still have a great chance to win this game regardless of who’s out,” Porter said.
The Timbers will be without Diego Chara, the Colombian midfielder whose defensive tenacity and endless energy make life difficult on opposing midfielders. Chara is serving a one-game suspension after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season in Wednesday’s 3-3 draw with Real Salt Lake.
Unknown is the status of team captain Will Johnson, and that of Ben Zemanski or Jack Jewsbury, the other players who have manned the two defensive midfield positions within the most-used Portland formation.
Porter said he would prefer not to get into a fast-paced battle with the Sounders.
“An open game will probably not be a smart game to be in,” Porter said.
That doesn’t mean playing passively, though. Porter said his team needs to become more consistently “ruthless” on the attack, especially when playing with a lead.
Diego Valeri, the Argentine midfielder who has given Portland a creative force on the attack, said Sunday’s focus will be about managing the game well — especially with limited rest between matches.
“Possession is our identity,” Valeri said. “In Seattle (possession) is very important, too, but most important is that we will be smart.”
Packed at the CLink
With 66,500 tickets already sold and bleacher seats being added, Sunday’s crowd should be the largest for an MLS match in Sounders FC history.
A crowd of 66,452 watched the Sounders beat the Timbers last October. The largest crowd to watch a Sounders home match was 67,052 when Manchester United visited for an exhibition.