Cascadia Preview Part Two
By Philip Mitchell
Seattle has an amazing roster. The names one will find there are pretty stellar. With that said, for some reason Sigi Schmidt just has not been able to get it together and get his team to produce the numbers that “everyone” was saying could happen. I would go so far to say a superb style of play was expected by some of their most loyal fans in the ECS. With players like Obafemi Martins, Clint Dempsey, Mauro Rosales, Eddie Johnson, Steve Zakuani, and Osvaldo Alonso are a small portion of the players that at any time can lead an attack that is second to none in the league. But Dempsey hasn’t scored. Rosales is looks dangerous one minute but becomes an old man when he takes a knock. Alonso has been, yet again, one of the premier holding midfielders in the league while Zakuani just returned from a long hiatus due to an injury. Johnson and Martins have been their saviors as the Sounders top goal scorers.
But, despite their current standings in the table, things the Sounders are starting to flat line. The team just looks to have lost an identity and not even like the same team that won games earlier this season. They look confused, frustrated and players are being accused of not even wanting to pass the ball to other players because they are “not good enough.” On Sunday, however, none of this matters. They want to win and I will go so far to say they need the win; otherwise, Portland passes them in the standings. The Los Angeles Galaxy are essentially knocking on the door requesting entrance into the top three in the division and so are the Colorado Rapids, but the Galaxy get the treat of dealing with Colorado and Vancouver for their last two games of the season. They are the last team I would want to face. Bottom line, they, the ECS, Gorilla FC, fans unaffiliated with supporters groups and the front office from the club could care less of how they beat Portland. They just want it to happen. Nothing less will be accepted.
History has been nice to the folks in the Emerald City. They have been used to “winning.” They have made the playoffs every year they’ve been in the MLS. That is an expectation now. However, everyone should understand that the risk of playing is losing. It happens. Accept it and hope for the best the following week. It may be hard for those that consider themselves a die-hard fan. Just take a look at what they are saying in Seattle about their own team. I think the proper term used by one of the contributors at the fan blog, Sounder At Heart, was “embarrassing.” Fans are arguing over who should start, and in some instances, using terminology towards each other that I will not state in this column. Nine goals against over the past two days is just the tip of the iceberg for why I agree with that sentiment, but I will leave it at that. The point here is not to bash Seattle or try to make it seem as if they are guilty of something unique. Portland has their fan sites as well and similar words and arguments can be seen but nothing like this since the historic loss against Cal FC. The main difference between what happened then and on Wednesday was Portland lost to amateurs while Seattle did not. To be fair, Portland fans had every right to complain after that. Sorry to point that out TA fans that were there, but there are some small yet significant issues that Rose City’s supporters need to accept and so do the folks up in the Emerald City. This mainly deals with losing games. It happens. Move on.
As much as I want to step into the camp that is taking the position of “there is no way we are going to lose this game now,” I have to remember that anything and everything can happen in soccer. I have stated that before and stand by those words. Ask yourself this; did you think that no-name sub for Real Salt Lake was going to sneak one in to steal a point when he entered the pitch? Portland Fans in the TA need to remember this coming into Sunday. As much as it was possible that Seattle was able to allow an 18-year-old boy to score a hat trick, the same could happen to Portland by Martins. Dempsey is more than likely going to play. Could he finally score? He is due.
If fans in PDX are expecting a victory, that is fair game. Believe what you want but I will warn anyone unwilling to admit that this game is not a guarantee to take a second to reconsider. Their unbeaten streak of 15 league games (it was longer if you count exhibitions and the US Open Cup) and their current streak of 5 games undefeated can cause one to think that losing is far from possible. I beg to differ. Real Salt Lake made mince meat out of PTFC (it was a road game) on August 30.
PTFC have historically played the role of the underdog. The media has essentially allowed this to exist and the fans on both sides of the isle have taken a hold onto it. When it was the USL Timbers vs. the MLS Sounders in the US Open Cup I can see how that may fit. But not anymore. Both teams are in MLS. Both teams are in the top end of their division (separated by 1 point). They are professionals. This game possesses more or less an equal chance for any of the three results (Win, Loss or Draw) for either team. It doesn’t matter who was hurt recently and cannot play nor does it matter who Seattle lost due to national team duty. The same could be said about Portland. Losing Rodney Wallace could be nothing but it could also be problematic. Valeri’s abductor injury may not be healed properly... but does it really matter? No. Not in this game of games.
SSFC are going to come to town to win and Porter needs to get the lads to do their homework. They need to be prepared regardless of who starts against them and for them. Now is not the time to get comfy. Simply said, there is nothing wrong with having pride in your team on the pitch, on the sidelines or in the stands. But, my fellow Timbers Army friends need to keep their feet on the ground. This game is to determine who wins the Cascadia Cup. We either get watch the ECS raise the cup or watch the South Siders raise it and essentially take the lead in overall Cascadia Cup Championships.
Going into the match all clubs have won the cup three times. It may be hard to stomach (I personally know some that have no qualms with this), but essentially Portland will be rooting for Vancouver Sunday despite what is going on for 90 minutes. Heck, I personally know people wearing Southsiders Scarves Wednesday in Portland. To some, this may sound quite odd but that is what it is. The Timbers have to do the dirty work for them, which adds more context to why this rivalry is like no other in MLS. You know the Timbers Army are going to be more than willing to do their part to prevent Seattle from taking a lead in overall Cascadia Cups and essentially raising it in Jeld Wen Field. Plus, why not let Vancovuer get it for once right?
So what does this say about the psyche in Seattle? After their second blowout loss in a row, fans need to ignore the calls by those with superiority complexes that think that results from the NASL, A-League and USL days are worthy of bragging about and indicating how dominant this team is. Simply said, this is the MLS era and none of those facts matter. I do think however that Cascadia Cups are legit due to the nature of rivalry matches. But prior to its creation, I think it would be wise to ignore the babble about how many times more Seattle has beaten Portland. Who cares? Some may disagree and use statistics to indicate how bad Portland is or how great Seattle is but that is beside the point.…. But I digress.
Creating expectations to win every game is perfectly fine. But to take it to a level of using the language that consists of phrases such as ( I am paraphrasing the talking points I have heard over the years) “ showing the league your greatness” or being the region’s “superior club” and some people have used the term “emerging world brand” is utter nonsense. There is only one club in the US that can be called a “World Brand” and the LA Galaxy has David Beckham to thank for that. Winning the MLS Cup 4 times, the supporter’s shield 4 times (8 times the best team after the regular season in MLS), the US Open Cup twice and the Concacaf Champions Cup in 2000 is what greatness looks like.. Seattle is the home of a MLS team with zero MLS cups. Portland and Vancouver, their rivals, have just as many. The US Open cups Seattle have won, they did it three years in a row, are important and significant but I would be careful bragging about them. DC United won this year, their third overall, and look at their season. They are the worst team in MLS at the moment.
Soccer is a game of chance, finesse, power, luck, skill and determination all combined. This is not the era of John Bain (NASL Timber) or Harry Redknapp (NASL Sounder). This is the era of Darlington Nagbe and Osvaldo Alonso. The game is played quite differently now. In some circumstances it is not even the same sport. In theory, the object of the game is the same. Put the ball in the goal. But how it is done has evolved over time.
Fans in Seattle familiar with the rivalry will still try to claim some form of dominance. I think the term “Decades of Dominance” was used on a tifo in Seattle and “Quality over Quantity” was used in Portland on one as well. Regardless, lets the facts speak for themselves.
Yes, Seattle has had the upper hand in the 7 matches they have played in the MLS era. Over the past three seasons, Portland has won one time. Seattle has been victorious on three occasions. The remaining 3 matches ended in draws. Winning two more games over your rival out of 7 is not much to brag about. Heck, statistically speaking a draw is the most likely outcome. There is nothing dominating about that at all. But it is what it is. Portland has come up short regardless. On Sunday things will change in this short three year history of competition in the top flight of American Soccer. Let’s revisit what has happened so far during this rivalry this season.
The results this season is more or less a microcosm of the total MLS era results stated above.. With a draw earlier in the season and a 1 nil victory for Seattle during the latter days of August, could Sunday evening’s match be another draw? The overall goal differential is 2 goals to 1, in Seattle’s favor. It is that close between the two. Portland can win. So could Seattle. Can Portland ruin Seattle’s Cascadia Cup dreams with a win? Sure they could but they could also be responsible for allowing SSFC to walk away with the cup. The thought of Portland losing a home game is depressing. It has happened during the 2013 season, but only once and that was during their first home game of the season versus Montreal. My experience with professional sports says the chances are very low. But the same could have been said about Seattle’s game on Wednesday against Vancouver. Seattle does not lose at home that often.
Some have said the path to the Supporter’s shield for either team is through Portland. New York and Sporting Kansas City would beg to differ. But RSL also needs to come to the Rose City to keep their chances of being the top team in the league. So it is up to debate on who has the best chances to win the Supporter’s Shield. With that said and done what are the probable starting 11 for either team fans should expect to see during the final Cascadia Cup match of the season?
For Seattle, they have a bit of a conundrum. Their typical stellar goalkeeper has been hung out to dry by his defense. I doubt he sits this game out. He is a game breaker. No offense to Marcus Hanneman. I just think he is a risk not worth taking. Gspurning is one of the best keepers in the league and if I was Sigi, I would start him with zero hesitation. What has happened could be blamed as his fault. He didn’t stop the ball from going between his legs and in the net. I tend to think that the 10 men in front of him are just as much to blame.
As for the back line, Zach Scott will not be playing. He will be sitting out his 2nd of a two game suspension. Yedlin should be out there. His knock he took should not be a concern. He has not logged in the most minutes this season on accident. He is good but his experience is showing. In the center of the pitch, Hurtado and Traore should be back out there. Ianni could get the start but I would hesitate on that. He isn’t as smart as his opposition for the starting spot. He is good but I would not want him dealing with Nagbe if I was Sigi. On the left is the toss-up. Should it be Gonzales or Burch. Were Burch has the left foot, Gonzales has the physicality that could stall Portland’s attack.
As for the midfield, this is where things get messy. Alonzo is starting. No doubt there. But what about Andy Rose? Dempsey for sure should get the nod over him. Rose’s ability to hold and control his portion of the center of the midfield against Vancouver was problematic. So much Mauro Rosales, who should be expected to be the right midfielder, had to cover his ground which ultimately exposed that side of the pitch and left Yedlin hung out to dry. Since Evans is out on national duty what should Sigi do for his midfield? Besides Alonso, Dempsey and Rosales where does he go? Should he gamble and give the nod to Zakuani? He has been a major problem for Porland in the past. Or should he go with Lamar Neagle? It will be interesting to see if he even decides to go for David Estrada and have Lamar be one of the strikers.
This leaves the obvious. Obafemi Martins will be starting. He will and should be getting a full 90 minutes against Portland. Eddie Johnson will not be playing. He was called up to be on the roster for the USA versus Jamaica and Panama. But he has been reported to coming up lame at the National Team camp and possibly with an injured groin. Times such as this can make any skeptical fan, like me wondering what is going on. Is it legit? If so that is a shame. No one wants to see players who get the chance to represent their nation get hurt. But if there is funny business going on I would not be surprised. All teams do it once in a while (look up Donovan Ricketts’ broken finger and tell me when it happened).
As for Portland I would expect the same 11 that was seen featured in Vancouver. But that is not possible due to Wallace getting called up for Costa Rica and the final status for Valeri. Nevertheless, Ricketts will be the starting goalie. I doubt he really has a broken finger. On the back line one should expect to see former team captain Jack Jewsbury on the right, Gambians Futty Danso and Pa Modou Kah will take up the center and Michael Harrington on the left.
Some may wonder why I am suggesting why the Gambians will start. Why not Baptiste? Based on what I have seen, the two Gambians play well together and they also communicate in a native language found within their country. They do not use English. This is a huge advantage. Communication is a huge portion of the game and this is something unique that I bet most have not come across that often. Now, unless Obefemi or Lemar have studied tribal Gambian languages, this could be a major source of confusion for attackers playing for Seattle. They may be aware of it and prepared but they will need to rely on their eyes and not ears when it comes to what their competition is talking about.
Depending on what you use as your source for the starting lineup, Porter likes to use a 5 man mid where he has two holding mids in the back and three attacking mids with a lone striker up top to add extra pressure. It may look more like a 433 formation but it is more like a 4231. If Valeri is healthy then expect to see him start where Kalif Alhassan did against Vancouver right in the middle of the front attacking mids while Darlington Nagbe will be to his right and Kalif to his left. Behind them will be Captain Will Johnson and the tough as nails work horse, Diego Chara.
Maxi Urruti couldn’t have had a better start in Portland. I am not so sure if Valencia will take his starting spot. Being single handed to taking down the league champs, LA Galaxy with a cheeky back heel shot off of a corner and adding pressure that led to Valeri’s game winner against Colorado has insured his spot in this game. He will be needed more than ever. He has played in games like this in Argentina. His risky diving ways as seen against Colorado better be gone this game.
I am not one who normally declares who is going to win. I bet you can tell who I am rooting for so I will conclude this column with that.
So what is your take on the current situation in Cascadia? Do you care? Has my assessment of Seattle offended you? If it has, remember this is rivalry week. Let me have it in the comment section below. It wouldn’t be fun without them. This is just a game and don’t take it personal. I know my argument has flaws and my town and team are not perfect. I am simply speaking this week not for just myself, but for the many I know that love this rivalry to their core. We love our team and we love the culture we have in the Pacific Northwest. Others may claim they have the best rivalry in MLS. Not even close if you ask me.
If there is a message to take home from this, it is not “hey your team and fans suck!” It is, we have a rivalry in Cascadia that is special. Some of my best friends are Sounders or Timbers fans. I have family members that root for either as well. So what I am saying is, I get more out of a rivalry when the debate remains civil. Being friendly and showing common respect but knowing you hate each other’s teams. Nothing is better than laughing at each other’s teams failures and coming up with anecdotes on what should be done next. Sharing a beer or non-alcoholic beverage the night before a match is the way it should be. Not as it is now. Not with forced segregation for safety purposes
No, I am not trying to be prophetic. All I am saying is know that not everyone celebrates this rivalry the same. I love this game. I love this rivalry and this region. LA can have their Super Classico with Chivas or the Cali Classico with San Jose. I don’t care about them and I assume they don’t care about the Cascadia Cup. But here is one thing I know. All eyes are going to be glued around the league Sunday Night. This game has huge implications.
Kickoff is Sunday at 6 PM Pacific Time. Check your local channel listings for your local time for pregame festivities. If you can’t watch it live, record it. You may regret what you miss. I will be there and you can bet your bottom dollar I will stay until the very last second regardless of the score. See you in the terraces my friends.