Cascadia Cup rivalry takes another turn

Many Timbers are first time participants vs. Sounders

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

Published:

 

With Timbers vs. Sounders, history is unavoidable.

Without the history there is no rivalry. No dueling tifos. No busloads of passionate supporters rolling up and down Interstate 5.

But on the turf at CenturyLink Field, Saturday's rekindling of the Portland-Seattle soccer rivalry is more about new faces than old grudges.

Timbers at Sounders

Kickoff: 5 p.m. Saturday.

TV: NBC Sports Network (cable Ch. 32).

Radio: AM 750

From the Portland perspective, this will be the first taste of the Cascadia rivalry for head coach Caleb Porter. It will also be an introduction for more than half of the lineup that Porter figures to send out to take on the Sounders.

So, while Porter said he understands why his Timbers are considered underdogs on paper, the coach said history isn't going to dictate the action.

"I look at it as an opportunity, more than anything," Porter said. "There's no pressure on the group right now — no more than there always is" for any game.

The Timbers and the Sounders are both looking for their first win of the season. Portland and Seattle suffered similar fates against a Montreal team that packed in its defense and won with counter-attack goals.

But the Timbers and Sounders both prefer to stress opponents with their attack as opposed to suffocating opponents with their defense, so the similar results against Montreal don't help predict Saturday's scenario.

More likely to impact this match is the confidence Seattle carries from scoring three second-half goals in Tuesday's win over Mexico's Tigres UNAL, an outburst that propelled the Sounders into the semifinals of the Champions League for North and Central America.

The Timbers can take confidence from knowing they controlled possession for long stretches of their first two games.

Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said that the Timbers present different challenges than they did in their first two MLS seasons.

"It's a much more possession-oriented team than they have been in the past," Schmid said of the Timbers. "From my standpoint, obviously we don't want to see them get into a real good possession rhythm because that's the basis of their game at this stage."

This is the first road game of the season for the Timbers, and the first time Porter has been the visiting coach in an MLS match. Among the unknowns is if Porter's team will be as aggressive in the attacking half of the field as it was in two home matches, or if the Timbers will take a more conservative approach.

Also interesting will be the battle between Seattle's steady Osvaldo Alonso and Portland's creative Diego Valeri. Alonso, 27, was named to the MLS Best XI last season for his tenacious work in front of Seattle's four defenders.

Valeri, 26, is an Argentinian attacker who in his first two MLS games showed flashes of unique skill, and a good feel for using space to create opportunities for teammates.

"Not only does (Alonso) break up plays and win balls, but he also is on the ball a lot and is a big part of their rhythm and tempo," Porter said of the Seattle cog.

"Valeri's one of our key guys. He needs to get loose. He needs to get the ball. He needs to be one of our guys that is creating chances for us," the Timbers' coach said. "That was a big focus of our training this week is making sure that we stop Alonso, but also that we get Valeri freed up."

Valeri, striker Ryan Johnson, midfielder Will Johnson, outside backs Michael Harrington and Ryan Miller, and center backs Michael Silvestre and Andrew Jean-Baptiste will all be playing for the first time in a Sounders-Timbers match. The good news for Portland: Most of the newest Timbers have played in plenty of big games elsewhere.

"I think the energy back and forth between the fans is going to be something special," Ryan Johnson said. "As for the game, I'm going into it like any other game and do what I'm supposed to do out there. I'm looking forward to the match, but I'm not going to (read) too much into it."