Over the next three days, Seattle Sounders FC will face a true must-win game, and a really-really-want-to-win game.
The must-win match comes Tuesday, when the Sounders visit the San Jose Earthquakes in a quarterfinal of the U.S. Open Cup – a single-elimination tournament in which Seattle is three-time defending champion.
But no Sounders member surveyed last week was willing to call that more important than the Cascadia Cup match today at Portland.
“Absolutely not,” said Roger Levesque, who has been part of the rivalry since its second-division days. “This team has always done a good job of focusing on the task at hand, and it’s always that next game. We’ll go down to Portland on Sunday and all our focus and all our energy will be in that rivalry game. Then, once that whistle blows we’ll have a chance to decompress a little bit. That recovery period starts right away to get ready for Tuesday.”
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Sounders defender Zach Scott went ever further.
“If you had to choose, I would definitely say (Portland is the bigger game),” he said. “Against a rival like that, I mean it doesn’t matter where we are in the league, who’s ahead, who’s below. It’s a rivalry game, you want to win that.”
Scott circled back only a bit when reminded that the Sounders’ three straight U.S. Open Cup titles may be the club’s top achievement.
“Obviously, they’re going to carry equal weight for us,” Scott said. “We’re going to put our best team out there for both days. We want to win everything. We want to win rivalry games, we want to win league games, we want to win any competition we’re in. We’re going for a ‘W.’ We’re not resting guys, we’re putting guys out there to win.”
The man charged with tailoring the roster for the two matches is coach Sigi Schmid. He also was unwilling to declare one match a higher priority than the other.
“For us, this game is a big game against Portland,” he said. “It’s on national TV on ESPN. It’s a rivalry game. It’s tough for us to go into that game and say we’re going to give points. Our attitude has always been to go into each game trying to win it. We’re going into this game to win it; and we’re going to (use) the best lineup that gives us the best opportunity to win it on Tuesday.”
Neither the Sounders nor Timbers have won much lately.
Seattle is 0-3-3 over its past six games, matching the longest winless streak in club history.
Meanwhile, Portland is 1-2-3 over its past six and is tied for last place in the Western Conference.
The low-point of the Timbers’ season may have come May 30 when they were eliminated from the Open Cup with a home loss to Cal FC, an amateur club.
However, Portland coach John Spencer declined to discuss past disappointments in advance of the Sounders game.
“We can only look forward,” he said. “I think we’re looking forward to the game. I think the players have trained and practice this week and practiced well. I think the young guys are looking forward to the challenge.”
One member of the Timbers who will be getting his first taste of the rivalry is Kris Boyd, a 28-year-old forward who is the all-time leading scorer in the Scottish Premier League. He signed with Portland as a designated player over the offseason and leads the club with four goals.
“He’s got a lot of experience, scored a lot of goals in Scotland over his years there with Rangers and scored some goals as well when he was with Turkey,” Schmid said. “He’s a big guy (6-foot-1) who’s … a little bit faster than you think he is. They think of him as somebody who just gets on the end of crosses, but he can post up, lay balls off, he can try to turn you as well. He’s a good, experienced forward.”
SOUNDERS FC (7-4-4; 25 POINTS) AT PORTLAND TIMBERS (3-6-4; 13 POINTS)
2 p.m., Jeld-Wen Field, Portland.
TV: ESPN. RADIO: 97.3-FM.
CLUB LEADERS: For Seattle: goals, 5, David Estrada; assists, 4, Fredy Montero; shots, 68, Montero; shots on goal, 25, Montero; goals-against average, Andrew Weber. For Portland: goals, 4, Kris Boyd; assists, 3, Eric Alexander; shots, 41, Boyd; shots on goal, 17, Boyd; goals-against average, 1.10, Troy Perkins.
HEAD TO HEAD: Seattle leads the MLS series, 1-0-1, with the win coming last season in Portland. The Sounders return Sept. 15; and the Timbers visit Seattle on Oct. 7. Across all leagues, the Sounders lead the Timbers, 40-27-9.
NOTES: The Sounders are defending champions of the Cascadia Cup competition between Seattle, Portland and Vancouver. So far this season, the Whitecaps have drawn with the Sounders and Timbers. … Seattle is 0-3-3 over its past six games, matching the longest winless streak in club history. Portland is 1-2-3 in its past six. … The Sounders had a 10-game road unbeaten streak snapped last weekend at Montreal. … Seattle is second in MLS goals-against average (0.93) and tied for second in shutouts (six). … Montero leads MLS in shots, shots on goal and fouls suffered (42). … Portland forward Mike Fucito could become the first player to participate on both sides of this MLS rivalry. … Seattle defender Leo Gonzalez (quad) is expected to return to the game-day roster. … Portland defender Hanyer Mosquera will begin a three-game suspension for hitting Los Angeles forward Jack McBean in the face last week. … Montero and Eddie Johnson are one caution away from yellow-card suspension. … The referee is Ricardo Salizar. … Because the Timbers wear green at home, the Sounders will wear their cyan kits.
QUOTABLE: “It’s a bunch of drunk, mid-30s-type of crowd, who are very well-educated. Much more vocal, a little bit more crazy. It’s a little nastier playing down there, to be honest.” – Sounders midfielder Brad Evans, talking to the Oregonian about Timbers supporters.
NEXT: The Sounders play the San Jose Earthquakes in a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal match at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in San Francisco. They return to MLS play 4:30 p.m. Saturday at New England.