Through a quirk of schedules, the Seattle Sounders will face Northwest rival Portland in each of their next two matches.
The first meeting comes at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup at Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila. The next is a nationally televised Major League Soccer match at 7 p.m. Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
And good luck getting Sounders coach Sigi Schmid to pick one as more important.
“Entering a competition we want to win it, so the Open Cup is important to us,” he said. “And certainly the league match is important to us. They’re equally important. We’re going to try to win the game Wednesday; and then we’ll focus on winning the game on Sunday.”
Crucial to that quest is divvying up the roster over both matches.
“Probably nine out of our top 18 were missing (at Vancouver last weekend),” Schmid said. “So it depends on how many of those guys are back and healthy, and that will determine how much squad rotation we can do.”
Midfielders Osvaldo Alonso and Gonzalo Pineda are available again after sitting out the 1-0 loss at Vancouver due to yellow-card accumulation. However, other new availabilities are less certain.
U.S. national team defender DeAndre Yedlin returned and is available, although neither he nor Schmid has said whether he will play Wednesday. Injured players such as Obafemi Martins, Djimi Traore, Dylan Remick and Andy Rose are said to be making progress, but Schmid has indicated reservations about bringing them back on Starfire’s worn artificial turf.
National team captain Clint Dempsey hasn’t returned from extended time off after the World Cup. He will not play in the Open Cup match, but is expected to be available Sunday.
Finally, Marcus Hahnemann, who had handled goalkeeping responsibilities through the Open Cup, is questionable with a hamstring injury. If he is unable to play, he could be replaced by usual No. 1 Stefan Frei or No. 3 Josh Ford.
Even among the healthy players, minutes must be allocated carefully, as not everyone is able to play two full matches over five days – especially in warm weather and on artificial turf.
“We’re really looking at it as an opportunity to start getting some guys back who were suspended or injured, and getting them into the rhythm of playing again,” veteran defender Zach Scott said. “And then there is a quick turnaround for the weekend, so we can’t put out a full starting lineup for both of those games.”
While the back-to-back matches could pose physical challenges, Scott predicts no problems getting emotionally ready for each.
“Portland games are always really intense,” he said. “So getting two of them in a week is going to be that much better. We all love playing those rivalry games.”
This will be the sixth time that the Sounders have played back-to-back MLS and Open Cup matches against the same opponent. They swept Houston and D.C. United in 2009 and Dallas in 2011, got a win and a draw with Colorado in 2009, and split with Los Angeles in 2010.
For Portland, this will be the second back-to-back situation this season. The Timbers beat Sporting Kansas City in Open Cup play last month but then lost to them in league play three days later.
“It’s tough to get two wins against the same team twice in a row,” Scott said. “And it’s even tougher when they’re both huge rivals like this. The Open Cup, it’s looking for a chance to get into the semifinals and a chance to win another trophy. And … in league play we’ve got to continue to get maximum points at home.”