The first and only game of the year between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders at Providence Park is almost here. Due to the heat forecasted for Sunday, kick off — originally supposed to be 1:00 pm — has been moved back six-and-a-half hours to 7:30 pm, with TV coverage now on ESPN2.
Both teams are in dire need of a result. Seattle has sputtered all season, while the Timbers have had a miserable last two months — and both teams hit new lows on Wednesday night, with the Sounders blowing a late home lead against Orlando and Portland losing a crazy game in Minnesota.
Strap in. Summer MLS games don't get bigger than this one.
This is the third meeting in less than a month between Portland and Seattle, but just the second in MLS play, and the first and only scheduled matchup of the year in Oregon.
When these teams got together in May at CenturyLink Field, the Timbers dominated — but an early Seattle goal held up to give the Sounders a 1-0 win. Seattle then won a matchup of reserve teams in the U.S. Open Cup just over two weeks ago.
This game, though — in MLS, later in the season, and with pressure rapidly mounting on both teams — is a different proposition entirely.
In recent years, the Timbers have poured it on against the Sounders at Providence Park — winning the 2015 game 4-1 and the 2016 games 3-1 and 4-2.
It's worth noting, however, that Seattle was severely shorthanded for all three of those encounters. Clint Dempsey, for instance, will be making his first appearance at Providence Park in almost three years on Sunday.
The Sounders should be at full strength on Sunday, though — with just five wins and twenty goals scored in the first seventeen games of their title defense — that hasn't mattered all that much so far this year.
Thanks to the 100-degree heat forecasted for Sunday, these two teams will play under the lights in Portland for the first time since the 2013 playoffs — when the Timbers raced out to a 3-0 lead and held on to advance to the Western Conference Final end Seattle's season.
The Timbers, indisciplined on Wednesday night in Minneapolis, have put themselves in a spot. Sebastian Blanco was sent off for kicking out at Abu Danladi and is suspended. Roy Miller, who picked a needless late booking, is suspended as well.
Alvas Powell, who did nothing to improve his status against the Loons, will return to the bench with Zarek Valentin moving back into the right back spot for Sunday. Dairon Asprilla will replace Blanco ahead of him and make his fifth consecutive home start. Jake Gleeson will start in goal after being rested Wednesday night.
Finally, Lawrence Olum and Amobi Okugo — the last two center backs standing — will anchor the defense. Brace yourselves.
Personnel-wise, Caleb Porter's hands are tied. He has no choice but to go with the players who are available. But in terms of picking his team up after two consecutive losses against the Western Conference's two worst teams, and in terms of putting together a game-plan, he must be at his best on Sunday.
On the Seattle side, Brian Schmetzer has a couple of big decisions in front of him. Will Bruin — who has good history at Providence Park — started up top and scored on Wednesday night, and could keep his place. That would mean no room in the lineup for Harry Shipp, and Jordan Morris playing in a withdrawn role.
Joevin Jones, rested on Wednesday night, will come back in at left back, while Brad Evans — who has played in this derby fifteen times in MLS — could get the nod at right back. He hasn't appeared in the team's last two games.
Schmetzer seems to be of the belief that his attack — which has no shortage of top players — will eventually figure it out this season. So far, it hasn't happened.
A note on the referee: Ricardo Salazar, handed this most plum of assignments by PRO, has history with Seattle. More than half of the red cards he's given in his career have come in games involving the Sounders. The last time he refereed this derby was in 2012, when the Timbers won a 2-1 thriller at Jeld-Wen Field.
The Key Matchups
Fanendo Adi v. Chad Marshall
Adi has a phenomenal goalscoring record against the Sounders — seven goals in nine career games — but he was pretty well bottled up last month in Seattle by Sounders center backs Chad Marshall and Gustav Svensson.
Adi, despite his brace against Dallas two weeks ago, is in the midst of a pronounced slump: he's scored in just one of the Timbers' last eight games despite playing 90 minutes in seven of them. The Timbers need their big man to step up on Sunday night.
It will be interesting to see who Schmetzer decides to pair with Marshall. Svensson was very good against the Timbers in May, while Roman Torres — the presumed starter — has had an ugly start to the season. It's a big call.
David Guzman v. Christian Roldan
While their central midfield partners are old hands in this rivalry, Guzman and Roldan are essential players for their respective teams.
Roldan has been one of the bright spots of the Sounders slow start — and he scored the winner when these teams met at CenturyLink Field in May. He played at left back against Orlando, but should be back in midfield on Sunday.
Guzman, meanwhile, was the Timbers' best player in that May game, but he was nowhere near the pace in Minnesota. Guzman has been plenty good going forward this season, but he might not have much license to attack in this game. Portland must have a big night out of him in front of its undermanned defense.
Lawrence Olum, Amobi Okugo v. Jordan Morris
Morris is mired in a sophomore slump — he's scored just two goals in more than 1,200 minutes so far this year — but more than errant finishing, it's his passivity that is killing the Sounders.
If Morris is locked in and aggressive on Sunday, the Timbers will have problems. He's twice as fast as Olum or Okugo, and if he gets going in the channels, he'll stretch the field and open up space for the likes of Clint Dempsey and Nicolas Lodiero to operate.
Regardless, Olum and Okugo — as well as Vytas and Valentin — have a big job in front of them. The last time the Sounders won in Portland, the Timbers threw out a backline that included Michael Harrington, Norberto Paparatto, and Danny O'Rourke. It didn't go well.
90 - Gleeson
5 - Vytas
18 - Okugo
13 - Olum
16 - Valentin
20 - Guzman
21 - Chara
6 - Nagbe
8 - Valeri (C)
27 - Asprilla
9 - Adi
Historically, the home team has dominated this rivalry — and while you wouldn't exactly want to bet on either side right now, at Providence Park, under the lights, the Timbers are the safer pick. They win 3-1.