I had this dream last night in which I asked sunshine to do the posts for the next couple of days and he agreed. I don’t know why I dreamed this. If I was going to have a wish fulfillment type of experience, it stands to reason that it would have been earlier in the week when there was nothing going on. It only occurred to me about five minutes ago that I am on duty today. Anyway, there is stuff to talk about now, so at least there’s that.
I’m probably going to end up watching this match on some pirate feed out of Mongolia. NBC has now, apparently, become the Timbers official broadcaster. I’ve groused about this before, so I won’t bore you further. At least not about that.
Although we’ve performed well so far in our own mini-tournament, the Cascadia Cup is still very much up in the air. By my calculations, the situation is this: if we beat Seattle either today or when we play them again in the first week of October, the cup is ours. That’s pretty simple. Even if they beat us once and then won their remaining match with the Caps (who are currently out of contention) we’d still have them on head to head record, which is the first decider in this tournament.
As has so often been the case this season, it’s really difficult to pick out any sort of trend line in our form. If I had ready access to a chicken at this point, I might be tempted to cut it open to use its entrails as a means of prediction. This match is at the JW, and when we’ve had form this season this is where we’ve had it. Although we’ve managed to draw on the road from time to time this season, we’ve not managed to win. Our goal differential on the road is a nausea inducing -22. Truth to tell, it’s not like we’ve been setting the turf alight at home either, but we have won a few matches (including our glorious triumph against Seattle) and we actually have a positive goal differential (+3) at our own gaff.
Derby matches such as this are always tough and, as the game earlier this season made clear, one can generally toss out the form book, since both clubs are likely to be well up for it. However, for those still interested in looking to recent performance as a means of assessing our chances it is worth noting that Seattle have looked a mean bunch of fish lately. They’ve won six of their last ten league matches, and this run includes a 4-0 battering of the Gals and a night on which they put Chivas to the sword in their own park, knocking six past them.
I don’t think I will be giving away any secrets, or stepping on any toes for that matter, when I say that this is a team with a lot more talent than ours. This rankles. There is really no intrinsic reason why they should be so good while we are not. Their fan catchment area is a bit more populous than ours, but the fact of the matter is that we fill up our park every single time (just like they do). Lots of us know Seattlites, and we are thus frequently subjected to their taunts. The fact that they support a team sporting jerseys that must be visible from the International Space Station does little to ameliorate this. The one unavoidable fact, that truth that must be evident to even the most one-eyed fan, is that the Sounders have consistently made better personnel decisions than the Timbers have. It’s as simple as that. They just have better players than we do. Until we start to address that question seriously our moments of success against Seattle will be few and fleeting.
I suppose I might be a bit more sanguine about our chances if it wasn’t patently obvious that our last meeting with the Sounders was really a case of the stars aligning. We weren’t in great form at the time, but they were really rocking at that point, and had a US Open Cup match in the horizon in the bargain. Their mercurial striker Freddie Montera, who got himself sent off in our earlier clash, had struck a rich vein of form and will certainly provide more challenges to our defense that he did earlier in the season. The story about the match on the Timbers official site also points to the fact that they have their keeper situation worked out in a way that they didn’t have earlier in the season (when Gspurning was injured). I’m not totally convinced that that had all that much to do with the result, but I do know that he’s got a GAA on the order of .71. This is not the kind of thing that one wants to hear as a fan of a team that has a lot of problems scoring.
From my perspective, the key to this match will be defense. We’ve done a rather better job nicking goals lately than we did in the first part of the season. The question is going to be: can the back line (plus Ricketts and Jewsbury) manage to keep their shape, play a high line, and avoid catastrophic mental mistakes. These elements, of course, are fundamental to the success of any team. That fact that we have to keep mentioning them over and over is an illustration of the extremely frustrating quality of this side. Our defense is like a tube of toothpaste. Applying pressure at one place merely creates a problem somewhere else.
For a team in our position, the concept of a must win match is a bit of a stretch, but I think it applies here. Given our form on the road this season, the chances that we are going to go up to Seattle and get any kind of a result seem pretty remote. If we don’t get it done here I strongly suspect that the cup will rest up north at the end of the season. In a season filled with the swallowing of bitter pills, that would rate as particularly grim.