Rivalry Week - 2020 - SEA and POR all-time XI

Portland XI vs Seattle XI: Which all-time lineup would win? | Greg Seltzer

EDITOR'S NOTE: MLS Classics, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes will be re-airing some of the league's best rivalry matches as part of Heineken Rivalry Week. Check out the full schedule.


There have been all-time XIs flying in left, right and center during this COVID-19 hiatus, but we’re taking that practice to a whole new level during Heineken Rivalry Week.

To court maximum debate, we've crafted all-time selections for both Seattle and Portland. And since there's always room for flames in the comment section, I then imagined how a match would unfold if these Cascadia legends locked horns on the field.

Before we introduce the squads and kick a ball, let's lay down some ground rules. Everything counted when it came to roster choices, but MLS performance weighed heavier than cup play or international accomplishments. We’re also assuming that everyone is in top form for the 18-man roster.

Portland Timbers

  • Goalkeeper: Adam Kwarasey, Donovan Ricketts
  • Defenders: Nat Borchers, Larrys Mabiala, Jorge Moreira, Liam Ridgewell, Rodney Wallace, Jorge Villafaña
  • Midfielders: Diego Chara, Jack Jewsbury, Will Johnson, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri
  • Attackers: Fanendo Adi, Dairon Asprilla, Sebastian Blanco, Jeremy Ebobisse, Maxi Urruti
  • Head coach: Caleb Porter

To a large extent, filling out the lineup card was largely straightforward. The midfield trio of Chara, Nagbe and Valeri picks itself. The same can be said about Adi, Blanco and Ridgewell. And while some could make an argument for Mabiala, Powell or even Valentin, there probably won't be many folks willing to die on a hill for the other three backline slots.  

There are, however, a couple of complicated picks to make. An MLS Cup win is just enough to boost Kwarasey ahead of Ricketts at goalkeeper. Then there's the issue of right wing, a position that has repeatedly let Portland down, in way or another. As much as we'd rather not move Blanco away from his favored left side, it's the only reasonable solution. Wallace then slides into the vacant left flank role.

Like the XI, the bench mostly fills out with clear choices. Some might question the lack of a back-up wide defender, but Wallace can slide back if necessary. Jewsbury and Johnson can also both take up right back in a pinch.

Diego Chara has played 264 regular-season games for the Portland Timbers | USA Today Sports

Strengths

The Timbers' midfield triumvirate has every skill needed to ruin any opponent's day. The whole team is a nightmare to deal with on the counter. They have several outstanding crossers, and a big target to aim for in the middle. They also score big in the intangible department, with combative gumption to burn all over the field.

Weaknesses

Perhaps more than anything, the Timbers bench doesn't quite measure up to Seattle's. One could also ask a valid question about their ability to consistently break down teams in possession, which by extension makes them a bit predictable.

Seattle Sounders

  • Goalkeeper: Stefan Frei, Kasey Keller
  • Defenders: Leo Gonzalez, Joevin Jones, Kelvin Leerdam, Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, DeAndre Yedlin
  • Midfielders: Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Nicolas Lodeiro, Cristian Roldan, Gustav Svensson
  • Attackers: Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Fredy Montero, Jordan Morris, Raul Ruidiaz
  • Head coach: Brian Schmetzer

If you asked 20 people for a starting crew, you might get 20 different answers. It's that difficult to portion the available talents. Right off the top, choosing Seattle's starting goalkeeper is the toughest call in this exercise by a country mile. Frei's MLS Playoff heroics give him the tiniest edge.

The outside back slots aren't easy either, but it really comes down to how one wants to play. Because Dempsey and Lodeiro will shade toward the middle and limiting the wings can squeeze Portland's attack, it seems wisest to go with Gonzalez and Leerdam. Jones and Yedlin can be held in reserve for impact-sub duty.

Piecing together the attack presents another genuine puzzle. There are numerous ways to go, and you'd hate leaving anyone on the bench. In the end, we let Dempsey, Martins and Ruidiaz soften up the defense for quickness merchants Montero and Morris.

Seattle's XI is so deep that Jordan Morris could come off the bench | USA Today Sports

Strengths

How long do you have? The spine is insane, with all-time league greats from back to front. The wide positions are certainly no joke, with difference-makers coming from all angles. This Sounders collection is so versatile, so you could deploy them in any formation. They’re deep enough in quality that the bench will be almost as strong as the XI.

Weaknesses

It takes a real nitpick to find one. Perhaps most discernibly, the left back is going to be somewhat one-dimensional regardless of who's playing. Gonzalez will clamp down at the back, but offers little going forward. Jones can terrorize moving into attack, but is beatable in his own end. That's about it, really.

How would the game go?

Portland comes out of the tunnel looking to keep the ball away from Seattle early to "shorten" the opening frame. It works like a charm, with Chara denying Lodeiro room and Nagbe acting as a reliable possession fulcrum.

The Timbers’ attack grows more dangerous as the first half progresses until they draw first blood. Chara wins the ball with Leerdam and Roldan caught upfield, allowing Valeri and Blanco to mount a rush down the right. Blanco's cross from the edge of the box is true, and Adi dutifully nods home the opener.

Seattle responds with some sustained pressure, and Kwarasey stretches low to push Martins’ drive around his post. However, he has no recourse shortly later, when Dempsey beats Villafaña to ram home a lunging header from Lodeiro's diagonal feed.

But then Portland strikes like a viper several minutes before intermission. Nagbe deftly touches a Borchers clearance into the path of Valeri, who slips Wallace in behind Torres. The Panama hero recovers to close him down, but can only get part of a cutback pass that Valeri lashes home to regain the lead.

Portland twice comes close to extending that edge early in the second half, but Frei rejects a firm Adi header and Valeri free kick in quick succession. Schmetzer then brings Morris on for Martins, pushing Lodeiro to a central station and the team into a 4-2-3-1. With the front running of Dempsey and Ruidiaz causing confusion, it nearly pays quick dividends. Unfortunately, Roldan skies over from a prime position on the hour-mark and Morris drags a shot wide moments later.

As the clock ticks into the final quarter hour, Seattle continues to tighten the screws. They replace Gonzalez with Jones and Ruidiaz with Montero, prompting Porter's wave for Johnson and Mabiala to provide fresh legs. But the Sounders finally pull level in the 84th minute with a clinical counter of their own.

Alonso swipes the ball before letting Morris and Jones loose down the left. The wingback sub crosses to the back post, where Dempsey chests down for Montero to slide home from the doorstep. The crowd is still buzzing from the equalizer when the Sounders cruelly decide matters. Kwarasey is equal to a low Lodeiro rocket, but can do nothing as Morris skates past to slot home the rebound. In the end, it’s a 3-2 win for Seattle over their Cascadia arch-rival.

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