TUKWILA, Wash. – Seattle Sounders FC kicks off another edition of Major League Soccer’s best rivalry today in Portland – a spectacle Timbers coach John Spencer thinks is among the best in the American sporting landscape.
For many local fans, however, it might not be the biggest game of the week. Seattle’s U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal, on the road Tuesday against the San Jose Earthquakes, is a must-win in the truest sense of the term, with a potential four-peat on the line.
But even with ramifications that might affect another deep Open Cup run, some Sounders players think it doesn’t get more important than today’s 2 p.m. bout against Portland at JELD-WEN Field, which will be broadcast on ESPN.
Of the two games in three days, defender Zach Scott said his winning preference “definitely” lies with beating the Timbers.
“Against a rival like that, it doesn’t matter where we are in the league – who’s ahead, who’s below,” he said. “It’s a rivalry game. You want to win those.”
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, faced with the brutal task of managing two high-magnitude games within 56 hours, has had to look ahead when it comes to potential lineup decisions.
“We’ll see where we are after the game Sunday,” he said, “but there are some thoughts in our mind. Again, we think we can make some changes on the offensive side of the ball. We’re still a little bit limited defensively. It’s going to be very hard on our guys physically, but we’ll make do.”
Both teams enter the game with a sense of urgency. Seattle is amid a six-game MLS winless streak, tied for the longest in team history, and Portland came into the weekend tied for the fewest points in the Western Conference.
But even if the teams aren’t meeting expectations, the rivalry hasn’t disappointed. One of the highlights came in last year’s meeting in Seattle, when the Emerald City Supporters, the Sounders’ main supporters group, unveiled an estimated 26,000-square-foot tifo display titled “Decades of Dominance” before kickoff. Sounders legends dating to the old North American Soccer League were featured.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been more pumped for a game that I didn’t actually play in,” Scott said. “It was like goose bumps – so excited, so much adrenaline. I wanted to run through a wall for my team. What a rivalry, that’s all you can say, really.”
The Sounders waived Christian Sivebaek on Thursday after the Danish midfielder played just three MLS games, none since March. The team also signed defender Daniel Steres, who was acquired June 6 in the waiver draft. Seattle’s group-stage games in the 2012-13 CONCACAF Champions League were released by the confederation Thursday. The Sounders will face Caledonia AIA of Trinidad and Tobago (at home Aug. 2, on the road Aug. 30) and CD Marathon of Honduras (at home Sept. 19, on the road Oct. 24). Sounders broadcaster Kasey Keller will be on the ESPN call, serving as the color commentator alongside Glenn Davis. Ross Fletcher and Peter Fewing will call the game on the radio. Sounders midfielder Alvaro Fernandez is suspended for the game after receiving a red card Wednesday against Sporting Kansas City.