We've arrived at the first derby of the 2017 season, and neither the Portland Timbers nor the Seattle Sounders — MLS' last two champions — are in quite the shape they thought they'd be.
The championship hangover has hit the Sounders hard. Seattle is currently languishing in eighth place in the Western Conference, having one just three of its first twelve games. The Timbers, meanwhile, after an excellent start to the season, are in something of a tailspin. They've been winless for over a month.
The result is that Saturday's early kickoff (12:00 PM, TV on FOX) is of urgent importance to both teams. Even outside of the rivalry, both Portland and Seattle need a result.
This will be the first game contested by the two clubs since Seattle won MLS Cup 2016 last December — the Sounders reaching that milestone just one year and four days after the Timbers did two years ago.
Seattle, entering this game having gotten a much-needed win over Real Salt Lake last weekend, has a dominant regular season record over the Timbers at CenturyLink Field. Dating back to 2011, Portland is 0-6-2 in MLS play in Seattle, with the club's only win over the Sounders at CenturyLink coming in the 2013 playoffs.
In fact, since that 2013 season when the Timbers eliminated the Sounders out of the playoffs, Portland hasn't even been competitive in the series in Seattle. Portland has lost its last four at CenturyLink and scored just two goals in the process.
The Timbers have had more success in Seattle at the U.S. Open Cup — memorably knocking the Sounders out of that competition in 2015 — and they'll face in the Sounders again in the Cup in mid-June. This is the first of three meetings between the clubs taking place in the next month.
The Timbers suffered a big blow last weekend in Montreal when Diego Chara idiotically got himself sent off and suspended for this game.
Chara is a big miss. With Ben Zemanski and Amobi Okugo both struggling with various injuries and seemingly out of favor, Lawrence Olum is to step into the Timbers' lineup next to David Guzman. Olum is a natural defensive midfielder, but he's never played the position for Portland and lacks Chara's range and ball-winning ability.
Elsewhere, the Timbers should be unchanged. They're going to need much better from their backline — and much more than they got from the likes of Darlington Nagbe and Sebastian Blanco — if they want to have a chance to win.
Seattle has, more or less, gotten healthy at the right time. Chad Marshall and Brad Evans have both returned to play in recent weeks, and Clint Dempsey — who has killed the Timbers in recent years — looks in good shape in his return from the heart ailment that sidelined him towards the end of last season.
Both teams should be up for the game, and while neither defense has been great this year, it could be cagey to start. Neither team high presses, and the vast majority of the goals in these games have come in the second half.
90 - Gleeson
2 - Powell
24 - Ridgewell (C)
7 - Miller
5 - Vytas
13 - Olum
20 - Guzman
6 - Nagbe
8 - Valeri
10 - Blanco
9 - Adi
Recent history — along with Chara's absence — does not bode well for the Timbers. Seattle wins by 3 goals to 1.