The word is the same.
“It’s with my French accent,” Nicolas Benezet said of “derby,” a term that didn’t need a translation from his native tongue. The new Sounders FC midfielder only needed to know his debut in Rave Green could be in the Cascadia derby against the Portland Timbers at the archrival’s Providence Park on Sunday.
“Nice. Good timing for me,” Benezet, who’s bilingual, recalled when told by Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer of the club’s upcoming schedule. “I hope I’m going to play. I hope we’re going to do the good game.”
Benezet, 30, will likely make an appearance. He was acquired from the Colorado Rapids at the close of the summer transfer window this month to add veteran depth to Seattle’s roster. Multiple players have returned from injury, however even the healthiest of lineups would require backup this week as the Sounders (9-3-6) will follow up the Portland match with a condensed road trip to play FC Dallas (Wednesday) and the reigning MLS champion Columbus Crew (Saturday).
Friday was Benezet’s first training with Seattle at Starfire Sports in Tukwila. He spent the previous three days quarantining where he visited Golden Gardens Park and binged Anime. Benezet has a manga library and has an affinity for Dragon Ball Z, taking pride in his marketing team superimposing a Sounders jersey on the Anime character Luffy.
Benezet describes himself as a technical soccer player who excels on the left wing or in the pocket, but not quite fit. He has made 11 appearances, including one start, with Colorado this season. The most recent was 35 minutes off the bench in a 3-0 loss to Real Salt Lake on July 24.
“The life was very nice,” Benezet said of the experience in Colorado. Born in Montpellier, Benezet also played for Toronto FC and started against the Sounders in the Reds’ 2019 MLS Cup loss at Lumen Field.
“I wasn’t playing,” Benezet continued. “Football is my job. Even if I enjoy the life, I just want to play football. So, it was time for me to get out of there. I’m so glad to be here and I just came here to win trophies. I hope we’re going to win a lot.”
Seattle, which is third in the Western Conference with 33 points, is already in contention for two trophies aside from MLS Cup. The Cascadia Cup Council — which consists of supporters for the Timbers Army, Emerald City Supporters and Vancouver Southsiders — announced the return of the hardware given to the winner of the matches between the Pacific Northwest clubs.
The council didn’t award the Cascadia Cup last season due to fans not being permitted to attend matches amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Seattle’s 2-1 win against Portland in May will not count, with Sunday marking the commencement.
The Sounders also advanced to the semifinals of the Leagues Cup with a resounding 3-0 win against Liga MX side Tigres UANL last week. The international competition was a jolt after a run where the Sounders were 1-3-1 in their previous five MLS matches and conceded six goals.
“Don’t waste Tigres,” Schmetzer said of his message to the team as it resumes MLS play. “Not to waste Tigres by thinking everything is OK, again. We hit a rough patch. One point out of nine is not good. Don’t think just after one performance that everything is hunky-dory. (Portland) is going to be a tough game.”
The Timbers (7-8-2, 23 points) mirror the Sounders ahead of the derby. Portland had a revitalizing 3-2 win against RSL to snap a three-match winless skid.
There was a significant change in forward Jeremy Ebobisse being sent to San Jose for a $1 million in allocation money. Yet, like Seattle, a host of Timbers players are either returning from injuries or international duty, the biggest being midfielder Sebastian Blanco.
The Argentine tore his ACL against the Sounders last season. He has made eight appearances as a sub and Sunday could be Blanco’s first start. The Designated Player has 26 goals and 37 assists since signing with the Timbers in 2017.
“He’s been missed, first of all because he’s Seba,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said during a videoconference call with media Friday. “But even more so, because of this situation we’ve gone through with so many injuries and having a very limited amount of players for almost the entire beginning of the season.
“That put us in a situation where we need each player in a bigger way — Seba, of course, in an even bigger way because he’s an important player for us. So, the fact that he’s been accumulating minutes is important and he will be available again, probably to get a little more minutes in this match. He’s looked good in practice and he’s looking sharper.”
Schmetzer didn’t shy at the possibility of starting captain Nicolas Lodeiro, who recently returned from a knee injury. And the club is pegging this week for defender Nouhou to make an appearance after suffering an adductor injury.
Then there’s Benezet, who regards the Sounders as the best club in MLS. Nice timing to help prove that against a Cascadia rival that thinks it is better.
“I can bring my spirit,” Benezet said. “I’m a technical player so I can bring this, and I hope I’m going to go and get some assists. That’s the goal.”