PORTLAND, Ore. — Sigi Schmid’s Seattle Sounders are staring way down the Western Conference standings at their archrivals. But he knows a 14-point cushion over the first-year Portland Timbers means nothing when his side takes the field on Sunday for the second-ever MLS meeting between the two teams (4 pm ET, ESPN).
“You try and prepare the same all the time, but it’s Portland,” Seattle’s head coach told reporters in Saturday’s final training session at JELD-WEN Field. “It’s a big game, there’s going to be obviously a lot of concentration and emotion in the game, which makes the game more difficult to play.”
The Sounders and Timbers have been moving in vastly different directions since their first meeting in Seattle on May 14 — Seattle have gone 5-1-3 and are currently riding a seven-game unbeaten streak, while Portland have gone 1-5-1 and are winless in their past six matches, including their last four at home.
That will mean nothing on Sunday when the Timbers Army roll out what’s expected to be a massive tifo display, and the sold-out crowd of more than 18,000 at JELD-WEN Field will give the Sounders a taste of their own medicine thanks to a feverish crowd that has circled this matchup since the Timbers were officially added to MLS in March 2009.
“You throw records out the window in a rivalry game because the emotions run so high,” said Schmid, who said the Seattle-Portland rivalry most closely echoes those of college football’s biggest rivalries.
The Sounders coach believes his team will feed off the energy of the hostile crowd and will come to understand what teams who visit CenturyLink Field have to deal with.
“When we play at home, a lot of teams get the advantage of our crowd,” he reasoned. “It gets them pumped up because they realize it’s a tremendous atmosphere. This is great for us because obviously there’s going to be a tremendous atmosphere tomorrow.”
Schmid was thrilled with his team’s unprecedentedly smooth travel experience on Saturday. The Sounders climbed on a bus in Tukwila, Wash., in the morning, made the quick three-hour drive down Interstate 5 and had a light final training session on the Timbers' home field in the early afternoon — a far cry from dealing with air travel, connecting flights and redeyes typical of MLS travel.
“It’s an away game, but it gives it a lot more of a European feel,” he noted. “Getting on a bus, going to a town that’s a couple hours away and playing a game — it’s similar to what you do if you’re ... Man. United and you’re going to play against Aston Villa, something like that.”
The forecast for kickoff on Sunday calls for picture-perfect sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70s, which means weather won’t factor into the result as it did in the teams’ rain-soaked first matchup in their 1-1 draw in Seattle in May. The relatively smaller pitch at JELD-WEN Field, however, will play a role.
“We have to move the ball quicker,” Schmid explained. “Time and space will be at a premium because the field is a little smaller. ... You can’t get away with as many dribbles because the second or third defenders are there a lot quicker.”