As if one of the best rivalries in MLS needed any extra stakes, Sunday's huge clash between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders (10 pm ET | FS1, TSN) has an added storyline: It pits the two most recent trophy-winning clubs against each other.
The Seattle Sounders are the reigning MLS Cup champions after beating Toronto FC in November, while the Timbers took home MLS is Back Tournament honors earlier this month after a stellar stint in Orlando.
Seattle also made the knockout rounds, but were knocked out convincingly against LAFC.
With the lofty expectations set in the Pacific Northwest, the Timbers are expecting an inevitable reaction to that exit.
“We expect to see the best version of the Sounders on Sunday," Timbers defender Larrys Mabiala told reporters on a video conference call on Friday. "They’re the reigning MLS Cup champions but they didn’t play the way they were expected to play at the tournament. Us, we’re the champions of the MLS is Back Tournament. This is going to be an interesting game. We’re going to see the best version of Sounders and that’s a good thing."
Portland have their own reasons for extra motivation, to prove their triumph at the tournament was no hot streak but indicative of a side that is among's the league's best.
"We have to prove this tournament is something we will build on," Mabiala said. "We showed a lot of improvements in many aspects of our game and we just want to keep moving forward.”
The Timbers' attack was led by Sebastian Blanco, who picked up MVP honors at the tournament, as well as Diego Valeri and Jeremy Ebobisse. The deep and talented group also features Designated Players Jaroslaw Niezgoda and Yimmi Chara. Niezgoda showed encouraging signs in his first Timbers minutes since his move this winter, leaving the Polish top flight as the league's leading scorer when he left.
Chara, meanwhile, picked up an injury during the knockout stages and is currently questionable to be available against the Sounders on Sunday.
“We want to beat our rivals, make our fans proud and get three points from this match," head coach Gio Savarese said. "We’ve prepared well to arrive in the best possible way for this match.”