It's quite possibly the fiercest rivalry in MLS, and it's returning to the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs Knockout Round-winners Portland Timbers will square off against Cascadia rivals the Seattle Sounders in the Western Conference Semifinals, beginning with Leg 1 on Sunday at Providence Park (5:30 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN5, TVAS2).
Are the Timbers anxious at all about facing their northern neighbors? On the contrary, they are excited to meet Seattle again in the playoffs.
"I think we're all excited to play Seattle," defender Zarek Valentin said at training on Friday, as shared byThe Oregonian's Jamie Goldberg. "I think the MLS loves it, I'm pretty sure the European markets are going to love it. The media's going to enjoy it, but ultimately these are the games you want to play as a player, because they're the most fun games to play in."
The Timbers and Sounders have met in the playoffs once before, in 2013, when the top-seeded Timbers defeated Seattle 5-3 on aggregate in the Western Conference Semifinals. Portland expect the intensity to ratchet up for the playoffs given the stakes.
"When you play during the season, it's a special game, it brings it to a different level," said Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese, who also praised the Sounders on their "incredible second part of the season." "But now in a playoff, when only one [team] goes through, now it's another component."
Valentin admitted that the fans' passion surrounding the game can spill over to the players.
"Ultimately as a player you're going to try to convince yourself that it's just another playoff game, but when you're on Twitter and you see the fans and stuff like that, it's not to the fans," he explained. "...I think in the first five minutes, you're going to see how scrappy it might be, how physical, and definitely you're going to say this is not just a playoff game."
Savarese admitted that he will need to be "smart" about his lineup choices with his team aiming to stay fresh for three playoff games in nine days, as the second leg will be played on Thursday in Seattle. Larrys Mabiala is suspended for the match after picking up a red card in Wednesday's win over FC Dallas, while Diego Chara and Liam Ridgewell could be suspended for the second leg if they pick up yellow cards on Sunday.
Chara, who is the engine room of the Timbers, wa asked if he has to play differently due to the possibility of a suspension. His response was unequivocal.
"I'll never change my game. I received a lot of yellow cards during the season, but I always try to do the best for the team."