BEAVERTON, Ore. – As if the Portland Timbers-Seattle Sounders rivalry needed anything extra, the historic regional series that dates back to the 1970s has taken on much broader implications with its latest installment.
That, of course, is thanks to the arrival of one Clint Dempsey in Seattle. The first game in front of his new supporters at CenturyLink Field is expected to attract not only up to 70,000 fans and myriad national media but start a conversation of whether Sunday’s event will be the biggest regular season game in MLS history.
“I think it's what defines MLS at this point,” Sounders midfielder Brad Evans told the Seattle media earlier this week. “I think it's this rivalry right here.”
Dempsey’s impact on this game is clear off the field, elevating what has been one of North America’s best soccer rivalries to an even higher level. So how will his addition to the Sounders starting lineup affect the game itself?
“They were one of the most talented teams in the league without Dempsey, and now they’ve got Dempsey,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said in training. “So individually they just have more than we have. And we need to make sure we’re aware of that and respect that.”
It’s hard to prepare for Dempsey with one idea in mind, the coach continued, explaining he’s the type of player who has the freedom to move throughout whatever set formation he’s a part of. And, obviously, Porter said Dempsey is the type of player who can change the dynamic of any game singlehandedly.
“He’s one of the best players in the league, if not the best player, arguably,” Porter said. “He still has to prove that in the league, but based on what he’s done overseas he’s arguably the best American player of all time. You have to put him and Landon Donovan in that category. I’m sure there will be a big debate on that. … You have to be aware of where he floats and where he moves because when he does pop up he can punish you, he can hurt you.”
At the same time, Porter said his team won’t be intimidated.
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“It’s not like we’re playing against guys that are so scary that we need to feel inferior, like we can’t cope with it or manage it, because we have managed it,” Porter said. “But at the same time their individual talent is something we need to respect, and we need to make sure we’re organized and we need to make sure we’re pragmatic in the way we approach the game.”
For Porter, getting results against teams with similar talent – Kansas City, Galaxy and even the first time around against Seattle – is a good sign.
“We know we can get results against very good teams in difficult situations, we know we can play against good players,” he said.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.