Head-to-Head Breakdown: Seattle vs. Portland

Seattle vs. Portland head to head breakdown

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

Kasey Keller is one of the all-time greats in US soccer, a guy who has represented the US at the highest level, played all over Europe and has won two USOC titles in two years with Seattle. Yeah, he’s a bit “experienced” — he won his first US cap before two Portland starters (Kalif Alhassan and Darlington Nagbe) were even born — but aside from an early-season propensity for getting beat from range, is still one of the best in the league. Expect Jack Jewsbury and Kenny Cooper to unload any time they’re within 30 yards of Keller’s net.

 

GOALKEEPERS

 

Coming back from Norway in 2010, Troy Perkins was supposed to be the anchor of a rejuvenated D.C. United. Instead, the veteran had the worst season of his career and wound up traded to the Timbers for his efforts. This year didn’t begin much better, as an injury caused him to miss the first six games of the season. Since returning, he’s looked more like his old self, and Portland are riding two consecutive shutouts. He can still flap at crosses, so expect Seattle fullbacks Leo González and James Riley to push up into attack and give Nate Jaqua plenty of service.

The Sounders had, on paper, one of the league’s best defenses heading into the season. And while they haven’t been particularly bad, neither have they been particularly good. A combination of injuries, rushed returns and poor form have hampered Seattle’s efforts, and at times they’ve conceded some poor goals. That said, they’ve given up more than one goal just once in their last six games, and in Jeff Parke, Patrick Ianni and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, have three experienced, steady center backs. How well fullbacks Riley and González play could determine how successful Seattle will be.

 

DEFENSE

 

 

The Timbers defense is still evolving. Three weeks ago in LA against the Galaxy, they put on a Keystone Kops routine as the 2010 Supporters’ Shield winners sliced them up right through the middle. The two games prior had been home victories where Portland nearly gave up, in the waning minutes, what looked like commanding leads. And their most recent two games have been shutouts against Real Salt Lake and Philadelphia, respectively. So it’s hard to say which defense will show up, but the relevant stat is this: In four road games, Portland have conceded nine goals.

Nobody’s been hit harder by injuries than the Sounders. Steve Zakuani was indisputably the best player on the team, and now he’s out for the year. Mauro Rosales then picked up a knock when he was rounding into form, and he’s still questionable for the weekend. All the turnover has caused some uneven performances, though there are hints that Osvaldo Alonso (now playing his more traditional d-mid role than as a box-to-box midfielder) is coming around, and Brad Evans has been in torrid form since his move to the right side of midfield. The Sounders will miss Rosales, however, for creativity.

 

MIDFIELD

 

John Spencer’s Timbers are a no-frills club when it comes to midfield tactics. Their two flankers — either Nagbe or Sal Zizzo on one side and Alhassan on the other — push forward into the attack and dive toward net in the final third. The two central midfielders, likely Jewsbury and Diego Chará, both play box-to-box and share defensive and creative responsibilities. It hasn’t quite all come together, as Portland can leave their central defense exposed too often, and are prone to playing long-balls when they get frustrated. But by-and-large they’ve been both effective and entertaining.

Midfield isn’t the only spot where the Sounders have been clubbed with injuries, as first Fredy Montero and Jaqua, and now O’Brian White, have all missed time with various maladies. White’s still on the shelf with complications from a blood clot, meaning Jaqua is the probable starter alongside Montero. Seattle have just 12 goals in 10 games, not exactly the pace you’d expect from a team with as much talent and experience as they boast on their roster. The good news is that Montero has rediscovered his scoring touch, and the Oregon native Jaqua will be highly motivated for the match against his “hometown” club.

 

FORWARDS

 

Cooper has picked up in MLS where he left off with FC Dallas two years ago. After several injury-marred seasons in Europe, the big man signed on with the Timbers and has been the first option in attack since Day 1. He still doesn’t play like the true target his size would suggest, but he’s been effective dropping back and bringing his teammates into the play, and is making himself an absolute force on set pieces (both taking them and getting on the end). Strike partner Jorge Perlaza runs hot and cold, and — like the Timbers as a whole — has yet to play well away from JELD-WEN Field.

 

Sigi Schmid is one of the most decorated coaches in MLS history. There’s nothing in this league he hasn’t seen and nothing he hasn’t won. He put a lot of pressure on his team in the offseason with the declaration that 2011 was “Cup or bust,” and while the initial response wasn’t great, his team is rounding into shape despite the adversity they’ve faced.

 

COACH

Few in the league — players, coaches, GMs, whatever — have a better understanding of “pressure” than Portland’s Spencer. He grew up a Catholic in Glasgow, but signed with Rangers. That right there tells you the guy’s up for a fight, and it’s a good bet his team will follow in the first edition of the Cascadia Derby.

Seattle’s big advantage in depth is defensive now that their midfield and forward lines have been ravaged by injuries. They have guys who’d be starters for most teams ready to come in as subs to lock down leads, but few options other than fan favorite Mike Fucito to press the issue if in need of a goal.

 

BENCH

The Timbers have very good depth in midfield with Zizzo, James Marcelin and Ryan Pore providing experience and dynamism on both sides of the ball. They’re thin in the defense, though, and largely unproven up top. If they need to swing the pace of the game and get a goal, they should be good. But locking down a lead? Not their forté.

The Sounders are nearly a third of the way through their season and have yet to really find their feet. The offense is misfiring a bit, Keller has had to come up with a string of big saves to keep them in games, and they’ve been decimated by long-term injuries to key players. Nonetheless, they’ve got home-field advantage, experience and a winning pedigree to propel them. Not to mention a hot Montero — he could carry them for months at a time on his own if he gets into one of his patented scoring jags.

 

OVERALL

 

It’s hard not to be impressed with the way Spencer and Gavin Wilkinson have built this Portland team. They found a gem in Alhassan, smartly pilfered Jewsbury from Sporting KC, and when the attack sputtered, moved Jeremy Hall to fullback to get Nagbe on the pitch and put Hall in a spot where he could bomb forward to swing in deadly crosses. There have been and will continue to be struggles, but there’s a lot to like about the men from the Rose City. That said, Saturday night will be a big task for an expansion team. They're prohibitive underdogs.