Clint Dempsey vs. Steven Taylor - Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers - Rivalry Week
Jennifer Buchanan/USA Today Sports

Timbers' Steven Taylor on Seattle rematch: "Big players have to step up"

BEAVERTON, Ore. — Portland Timbers center back Steven Taylor experienced the pomp and intensity of the Timber-Sounders rivalry in his MLS debut last Sunday.

The 3-1 loss to the Sounders at CenturyLink Field wasn’t the result he wanted. But the former Newcastle United mainstay said there was plenty to build from — including his first chance to get 90 minutes alongside fellow Premier League veteran Liam Ridgewell.

“We know each other’s game and I know Liam from years and years [ago]. It just made it easier for myself. I think we understand each other very well,” Taylor said.

It helps that both Taylor and Ridgwell are vocal guys.

“He’s just a leader. You can tell he likes to talk,” said Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson, about Taylor. “He’s very passionate in how he does things. Ridgy’s a big communicator too, so to have both of them commanding the back line is going to be vital.”

"Vital" describes Taylor’s Providence Park debut, which is expected to come this Sunday afternoon when Seattle visits as part of Heineken Rivalry Week (5 pm ET, ESPN, MLS LIVE in Canaa). He said playing a rival in back-to-back games will be a new experience, but one he is excited about.

“Everybody likes to play in the big games. Big players have to step up; that’s what it’s all about in these kind of games,” Taylor said. “That’s why you’re a professional footballer, for moments like this and games like this.”

After playing almost 200 matches in England’s top league, one thing that struck Taylor about his first MLS experience was the pre-game celebration at CenturyLink Field. But after those audiovisual surprises, he said he settled in and thought the Timbers did a nice job of executing their plan and absorbing pressure from Seattle during the first half.

The trouble, he said, came when the Timbers fell behind and lost their shape while chasing the tying goal. That is a lesson the whole club will carry into Sunday’s rematch, Taylor said.

“We’ve just got to make sure we play the game, not the occasion,” he said.

Taylor, 30, said his fitness will continue to improve with each match he plays.

“It’s at the end of the season, but for me, it’s like the start of the season. I’m feeling good, training hard and played hard at the weekend,” he said.

One thing that didn’t feel so good in Seattle was blocking a Nicolas Lodeiro free kick with his face. Taylor initially feared his nose was broken after he stood his ground in the middle of a defensive wall.

But he took it in stride. “If it stops a goal," he said, "happy days."