TUKWILA, Wash. – When Portland and Seattle meet Saturday in the first matchup between the Cascadia rivals this season, there will be no lack of intensity or acrimony.
No one would expect anything less when the Timbers and Sounders meet, especially now with both being able to claim championships on their MLS resumes.
“(The rivalry games), I think, do set the tone for the rest of the season in a lot of ways,” Portland coach Caleb Porter said. “Obviously it’s not the only time we’ll play them, but because it’s bigger than 3 points, in terms of magnitude – the supporters and how they feel about it, and the players and how they feel about it – you want to get that result even more so. It’s the best medicine, when you haven’t won, to get 3 points.”
But the timing of this rivalry match makes things a bit uneasy for a handful of players.
For the likes of Jordan Morris, Clint Dempsey, Darlington Nagbe and possibly a few others, a key period of World Cup qualifying matches is on the horizon. The U.S. national team will face Venezuela in a friendly on June 3 in Salt Lake City before two hugely important qualifiers – June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago in Commerce City, Colorado, and June 11 against Mexico in Mexico City.
The U.S. is expected to announce the roster for its upcoming training camp and those matches soon, and the last thing any player wants is to pick up an injury right before the qualifiers.
“Obviously jumping into the international game it’s a different level and it’s pretty exciting, but I think you try and have the same mentality to go in and work hard every day and try to get better,” Morris said. “I guess it’s a little different going into (national team) camp that I have to prove myself a little bit more. There are a lot of good forwards and I want to fight for some time on the field so I have to go into every practice and prove myself.”
Morris understands the risk that comes with trying to balance club commitments and national team duty. He was unavailable for both U.S. qualifying matches in March after injuring his ankle in an MLS match just before reporting for national team camp. Morris was left at home as a spectator while the U.S. beat Honduras and played to a 1-1 draw at Panama.
“You have to try and push it out and focus on the now,” Morris said. “Obviously, the most important thing is this game this weekend.”
Seattle defender Brad Evans likely won’t be selected for camp in this round of qualifying after recently returning from an injury. Having played in World Cup qualifiers in the past, Evans understands the difficult dynamic that comes with knowing a national team opportunity is on the horizon while not sacrificing performance for the club.
“Ultimately you’ve got to be smart in certain situations,” Evans said. “But at the same time, if you don’t perform well with your club team you don’t get called in with the national team. And (U.S. coach) Bruce Arena will see that.”
AP Sports Writer Anne M. Peterson contributed to this report.
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