[In honor of the first meeting of the year between us and our rivals to the north, we've invited our friend Anfield89 to chip in with his views. As I mentioned yesterday, he's generally sound, which doesn't mean that we wouldn't happily glass him if he gets out of line...]
The High Holy Day of St. Timberfall: A Seattle Fan’s View of Sunday
I have the privilege of knowing Messrs. Sunshine and Magadh for a good number of years. Ours is a friendship born of countless hours spent following the exploits of Arsenal Football Club. I am very proud to have been asked to contribute a preview to this most excellent blog. I should also note that both gentlemen have been members of the Timbers Army far longer than I have supported the Sounders. Still, persistence in a folly makes it no less a folly.
In trying to describe the relationship between Portland and Seattle I’m often tempted to characterize it as the struggle between good and evil (better known as the struggle between Arsenal and Sp*rs). Sadly, the analogy rather abruptly falls short. This is because the scum with the cock on their shirt have actually won something while the Timbers, well, haven’t. Perhaps a more apt analogy from the BPL (Barclays now insist upon use of the B) is that of Chelsea vs Fulham. Both sides are from tony parts of London and both are propped up by rather wealthy ownership. Further, Chelsea are a good cup side who occasionally nail down a league title and Fulham haven’t won a goddamned thing. While I could happily write a post devoted entirely to insulting Seattle’s slack-jawed cousins to the South I am, ostensibly, here to discuss the Sounders side which will face Portland on Sunday.
The Sounders started the season with Michael Gspurning in goal. Gspurning had done an admirable job of following in the not insubstantial footsteps of Kasey Keller. In fact, the Sounders boasted the stingiest defense in the league through the first eight games. However, a hip injury to Gspurning opened the door for Bryan Meredith. Meredith started his tenure well enough but a significant dip in form over the past few games saw the boss insert Andrew Webber, signed as a free agent, as the starter against Sporting Kansas City. Portland can expect to face one of Webber or Meredith on Sunday. Webber’s consistency against Sporting on Wednesday night should augur well for his inclusion in the starting 11.
The backline started the season as a solid unit, inspiring fear in the opposing attack. However, their recent form has done much to erode that impression. The heart of the defense is its strength. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado is an imposing ball winner who likes to put his foot in. Hurtado is often partnered and complemented by steady operator, Jeff Parke. Patrick Ianni, the 3rd center half, has logged plenty of minutes for Seattle down the years and scored a cracker of a goal against Sporting. Hurtado will come back into the side for Sunday’s contest following a one game suspension, either Ianni or Parke will be up to the task of assisting El Presidente in preventing Boyd from connecting with any of the poorly crossed balls from the Timbers wide men.
The fullback position has been something of an issue this year. Marc Burch joined the Sounders for the 2012 season after DC United declined an option to retain his services. He has been a significant source of frustration for Seattle fans, performing poorly in defense and when going forward. So much of Seattle’s attack requires good linking play between the fullback and wide players and Burch has often looked out of his depth. Costa Rican international Leo González is the nominal starter on the left. However, while he does have a natural attacking flair, he has been guilty of being caught out on occasion. This, coupled with a propensity for tasty tackles within and outside of the laws of the game, makes him a concern. That said, he is far superior to Burch. The right fullback position, while weaker following the departure of James Riley, is still a solid. Zach Scott and Adam Johansson are proficient in both attack and defense. The lamentable Burch and solid Scott should occupy the fullback slots on Sunday.
Seattle uses its wide midfielders to great effect and are blessed to have a real talent in Mauro Rosales. The former Ajax and River Plate man is a master technician blessed with a great footballing brain. He gives fullbacks fits and Seattle tends to develop many of its attacks through him. He can also play through the middle, as he did against Kansas City, to very good effect. I would expect Rosales to start on the right this Sunday.
The Sounders find themselves a bit snakebitten with injury on the left side of the midfield. David Estrada started the campaign and was quietly putting together a career season. His disciplined and direct style yielded six goals from 26 appearances. Unfortunately, he is sidelined with a foot injury. In the absence of Estrada and Fernandez, who felt the sting of the ppor MLS officiating against Sporting KC, Schmidt will likely call upon Alex Caskey, a player in the vein of David Estrada who has steadily grown into his position this year. Finally, Steve Zakuani made the bench for the first time this year on Wednesday night following mouth-breathing halfwit Brian Mullen’s tackle in 2011. Given Zakuani is just returning from injury, Caskey seems the likely choice for Sunday.
The center of the midfield is best described as a combination of the ridiculous, sublime and serviceable. In the ridiculous department, Brad Evans is the kind of player that gives fans fits–his moments of brilliance are few and far between. Usually he is remembered for being pulled out of position, failing to track runners and generally giving the ball away without any real pressure. Sublime doesn’t do Osvaldo Alonso justice. Ozzie patrols the middle of the park with a terrier’s tenacity. He’s strong in the tackle, good in the air, has an excellent motor and never gives up. His two-game absence due to the caprice of the MLS has been keenly felt. He was a force against Sporting and the Sounders are happy to welcome this newly-minted American citizen back. That leaves us with the serviceable duo of Danny Rose and Servando Carrasco. Rose is still learning his trade but looks to be a good one for the future. Carrasco is a steady performer who, at times, is guilty of overzealous challenges which can put the side at risk. The Sounders will probably select two of Morales, Evans and Alonso to hold down the center of the pitch on Sunday.
Seattle is possessed of formidable, if mercurial, attacking talent. Eddie Johnson joined the side for the 2012 campaign. You can see the talent that brought him to some of Europe’s biggest leagues, as well as the USMNT, but you also see the flaws that returned him to the MLS. Johnson is a good target man who possesses great pace and skill on the ball. That said, he’s also guilty of over complicating things when a simple ball will do and of dallying on the ball when the pass is on. In addition, he tends to spend a significant amount of time offside. Still, he’s chipped in four goals from 11 appearances (one-third of the total number of goals scored by the Timbers in MLs play) and should be a handful on Sunday.
Johnson’s striking partner, Fredy Montero, should require little introduction to Timbers fans. Montero has good pace and skill with the ball. His goal-scoring campaign started late but it has quietly gained some momentum. The diminutive Columbian has six goals (half the tally of the Timbers in MLS play) and four assists by way of 15 appearances in all competitions. On his day he has the potential to win a game himself but can also be guilty of pouting when things don’t go his way or his teammates misplay a ball.
Roger Levesque and Sammy Ochoa round out the frontline. Levesque is a Sounders cult and Timbers hate figure who has been with the side since 2003. His appearances have been restricted in 2012 but when he gets on the pitch he works hard and links up well with his teammates. Sammy Ochoa looks like he’s been rather enjoying the donuts from Sounders’ sponsor Top Pot. He’s been limited to four appearances this campaign and has two goals to his name, both coming in the Open Cup. Expect Montero and Johnson to lead the line against a fragile Timbers back 4.
As to the game, it certainly seems that the Sounders have the edge but you can never tell in a derby. Seattle possess formidable attacking talent and great pace. That said, our finishing boots seem to have been lost by the kit man. The Sounders are also fairly solid across the back with the notable exception of Burch. They have been susceptible to the counter attack from needless giveaways in the midfield and could also stand to tighten up on set pieces. Both sides need a win to get healthy and I think the Sounders should do just enough to head up the I-5 with all three points.
If you’re wondering about the title of this post, it relates to a new day of celebration amongst Sounders fans. In the vein of St. Totteringham’s Day in North London, St. Timberfall’s is celebrated when the Timbers find it impossible to finish above the Sounders. Any of you care to do the math?