Caleb Porter has more respect than ever for the Seattle Sounders, having coached four of them in the Major League Soccer All-Star Game.
"Seattle's arguably the most talented team in the league, position for position," the Portland Timbers coach said.
Porter wasn't selling his team short, just explaining that his team will need to play at a high level to expect a win against the Sounders on Sunday afternoon at Providence Park.
"Mostly what I'm focused on, irrespective of Seattle, is getting every single guy that I pick and every single guy that I sub into the game to give their absolute peak performance," Porter said.
Peak performance will be required if the Timbers are to overcome the unproductive start to this season and climb into the playoffs. Because Portland didn't post a win until its ninth match of the season, the Timbers have been feeling the heat all season, Porter said.
The Timbers have been hovering just below the playoff cutoff fifth-place spot for a while. A win today would move the Timbers into fifth place, one point ahead of the Vancouver Whitecaps, their opponent next weekend (though the Whitecaps have 10 games left and Portland nine after today).
Just playing well — last Saturday's 1-1 draw at New England, for example — will not cut it the rest of the season according to the coach.
"I didn't feel we gave our best performance (at New England). And it's time for us to go to that final level, to find that extra gear at this stage in the season," Porter said.
"For some guys it was just a little bit more focus. For other guys a little bit more quality. For some guys it's a few more plays, either side of the ball. For some guys it's five more minutes at a higher level. That's my job to wring out everything I can out of the group that I have," Porter said.
That team is healthier than it's been all season. Only rookie George Fochive is nursing an injury according to Porter.
"It's nice going into this game to have (lineup) options. Last time we played them (July 13) on the road our hands were tied a little bit. We had a number of injuries at that time, especially in the back line and up top with Maxi (Urruti) being injured."
Despite the frustrating draw last weekend in New England, Portland has three wins, one loss and one draw since losing in Seattle.
The form of midfielder Diego Valeri, who scored in four consecutive matches before last weekend, has helped breathe life into Portland's season. So has the arrival of central defender Liam Ridgewell. Ridgewell scored his first MLS goal at New England, but it is the veteran's ability to take charge of the defense that has made the biggest difference for the Timbers.
"I think the team has got a lot of confidence, especially the backline," Ridgewell said. "I think everyone's linked together very well, and hopefully we can take that into the Seattle game and show how comfortable we really are."
This will be the first Cascadia Cup action for Ridgewell. But he was on the bench for the July 13 match at CenturyLink Field, which gave him a sense of the rivalry. He also has experience playing in England against Clint Dempsey and as a teammate with Seattle striker Obafemi Martins.
"They've got a lot of good individual players that can turn a game on the day," Ridgewell said. "We've got to make sure we play better than them. And we're at home, so we'll be looking to push the game and try to make sure we get a win."
In other words, the kind of performance that Porter believes is a must over the final 10 games of the season.
"It's time for us to go to that final level, to find that extra gear at this stage in the season," Porter said. "It's time for us to start to move up and swallow teams up and make our run."