For the third time in the span of a month, the Sounders will face their rivals to the south: the Portland Timbers.
Due to MLS travel considerations to guard against the spread of COVID-19, the league scheduled quasi-regional matches to enable teams to make round-trip flights on game days. That has meant more matches against Western Conference foes like Portland and Los Angeles FC.
The Rave Green will board a flight Wednesday to face the Timbers at Providence Park, having just played its Cascadia rivals Sept. 6 at CenturyLink Field. But again, fans won’t be part of the storied derby.
“For the players, there’s a lot of pride,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said via phone Tuesday. “It’s still a good on-field rivalry. I think you just lose a little bit when there’s no fans in there.”
Breaking up any monotony for the Sounders will be eagerness to avenge the 2-1 defeat in their last meeting at CenturyLink.
In fact, the outcomes of the past two games between the sides will amp up the derby. The road team has won the past six meetings, which dates back to 2018.
The Sounders opened their second MLS re-start with a 3-0 victory in Portland on Aug. 23. Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse told media members this week that the defeat zapped the good vibe the club created by winning the league’s first return to play with the MLS is Back tournament in Florida just weeks earlier.
“It’s weird,” Schmetzer said of Seattle’s unbeaten streak in Portland the past three seasons. “It’s rare for that to happen in any pro sports rivalry. I really wish I knew (why), it’s just the way the games have kind of manifested themselves.”
Portland is equally confused by its home defeats to Seattle and wants it to end Wednesday.
“We want to make sure that we make Providence Park a fortress again,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese told media Monday. “It’s been something that we’re not happy with – the fact that we haven’t been able to win in the last two matches at home against (Seattle). I’m sure it’s the same feeling that they have; that they haven’t been able to beat us on their field for the last few matches. We want to make sure that this one, not only do we get three points, but that we put in a very good performance.”
Both clubs enter the match after energizing wins. The Timbers defeated the San Jose Earthquakes 6-1 on the road last week. The Sounders shut out Los Angeles FC 3-0 on Friday.
Seattle (6-2-3), which sits atop the Western Conference standings, leads MLS in goals at 26. The Sounders have conceded only 10 goals in the truncated season, which is third fewest in the league.
Leading the way for the Rave Green in scoring is Raul Ruidiaz. The Peruvian forward has eight goals and three assists this season. Possibly more impressive is how lethal Ruidiaz is against Portland, tallying seven goals and two assists in seven matchups against the Timbers.
“He’s getting close to Clint Dempsey status,” Schmetzer said. “(Raul) seems to have the knack for scoring big goals in big games. And, again, Portland is a big game for us.”
Schmetzer likened Ruidiaz’s performances in the Cascadia derby matches to Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, particularly after Wilson’s performance in Sunday night’s win against the New England Patriots.
“Everyone was talking about the rivalry between the coaches, very successful franchises,” Schmetzer said. “That was a big game and look what Russell did. He hit it out of the park, he was fantastic. Raul is similar in those big games. He really kind of has those moments where he makes a difference.”
The Timbers (5-4-3) are without star midfielder Sebastian Blanco, who tore his ACL in the opening minutes against Seattle on Sept. 6. The Sounders return midfielder Gustav Svensson, who completed a 10-day quarantine after travel to Europe to compete with his Swedish national team.
“It feels good to be back,” Svensson said via audio provided by MLS. “It’s always special to play against Portland. …It’s going to be a tough game but we’re ready.”