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Timbers, Sounders both eye playoffs

A win by either squad could be key in playoff push

By Paul Danzer, Columbian Soccer, hockey and Community Sports Reporter
Published: August 20, 2016, 5:40pm

Unsettled describes the 2016 MLS season for both the Portland Timbers and the Seattle Sounders.

Injuries have kept the Timbers from finding the consistency that carried them to the MLS Cup title last season. The absence of consistent scorers had the Sounders floundering near the bottom of the Western Conference for much of the season.

But a win for either club in Sunday’s rivalry match at CenturyLink Field could provide a significant boost in the playoff scramble. The Timbers (8-9-8) have been hovering around the playoff cutoff for much of the season. The Sounders (8-12-3) have put life in their season with consecutive wins.

Timbers coach Caleb Porter pointed to continuity as a reason for Seattle’s recent success, and the lack of continuity as a reason his team has not yet won a road match this season. He noted that the Timbers have only twice played the same lineup in consecutive games.

“Ideally you want to have a group in every single week because you’re winning, you’re performing well and that group’s getting the job done,” Porter said. “I think we’re finally at a stage where actually we can do that.”

Whether that means central defender Steven Taylor will make his MLS debut, Porter wouldn’t say. He did indicate that the former Newcastle United mainstay could be an option after a strong 90-minute outing last weekend for Portland’s USL side.

Brian Schmetzer, the Sounders interim head coach, said the variety of lineups and formations the Timbers have used this season adds to the preparation challenge – though the Sounders are very familiar with most of Portland’s players.

“It is difficult at times to scout them. But if you get to know the personalities it might give you some insight into how they play and why they do some of the things that they do,” Schmetzer said.

There is no confusion about why the Sounders have a draw and two wins since Sigi Schmid was let go and Schmetzer promoted to interim head coach. The arrival of Uruguayan international Nicolas Lodeiro has given the Sounders a creative presence that was missing. He has a goal and three assists in three MLS matches.

“Seattle’s played pretty well all year,” Porter said. “There were a lot of games where I felt they were unlucky, they just didn’t finish. So now all of a sudden you’ve got a guy that can finish a play and set up goals and produce.”

Lodeiro has made the Sounders’ attack more diverse, forcing defenses to pay attention to someone other than Clint Dempsey in the buildup and creating more opportunities for rookie forward Jordan Morris and winger Andreas Ivanschitz.

“Those front four guys are very good and they have a lot of freedom to interchange and move,” Porter said. “We have to be tight and organized (defensively) in managing their attacking players. But we also need to make them defend. That’s very important.”

He noted that the Timbers scored three goals against the same Sounders’ defenders in Portland’s 3-1 July 17 home win over Seattle.

The match at Seattle is the first of two in a row against the Sounders for the Timbers, who host Seattle next Sunday. The Sounders visit Houston for a match between the two games.

Given the history between the clubs and that neither is pleased with its position in the standings, these clashes figure to be as feisty as any the rivalry has dished out.

“It’s always bigger than three points, in terms of momentum and confidence,” Porter said about games against Seattle. “So I think it’s really going to be a dramatic couple games and I think it’s crucial for both teams.”

Cascadia Cup standings — Portland and Vancouver are both 2-1 and Seattle is 0-2 in Cascadia play this season. After these matches against Seattle, the Timbers will have only a season-ending visit to Vancouver remaining while the Sounders and Whitecaps still play twice.

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Columbian Soccer, hockey and Community Sports Reporter