TUKWILA — It was clear by late-morning Thursday this isn’t a normal week.
A small group of Sounders fans gathered at the gateway to the team’s training field and set off green and blue smoke bombs while chanting as the players made the walk to their locker facilities at Starfire Sports in Tukwila. It’s rivalry week as the club travels to Portland for Friday’s Cascadia derby at Providence Park.
“I love it,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said over the noise. “Everybody that comes here understands that this is the rivalry. There are good ones — LA Galaxy and LAFC is starting to be a good one and there are others across the league. But there’s no other rivalry that has the amount of history, length of time, the amount of games and magnitude of the games that Seattle-Portland has.”
The series began in 1975 when the Timbers joined the Sounders in the NASL and has carried across four iterations of soccer leagues. Portland joined MLS in 2011 to set the modern-day stage of the Cascadia derby, which is widely accepted outside of the Pacific Northwest as the premier matchup in the 28-team league.
ESPN will air the 136th meeting of the sides through all competitions. But Friday might be unique. Not only has the road team won eight of the past 10 matches (one resulted in a draw), Portland and Seattle are both one point outside the playoff picture in the Western Conference standings.
For reference, one of the Cascadia titans has represented the West in the MLS Cup final in each of the past seven years, with the Sounders winning two championships. Portland lost last season’s title to New York City FC after a penalty shootout at Providence Park.
The Sounders (10-13-3) are staggering into Friday’s match having lost three of their past five matches. The Timbers (7-8-12) are also stagnant, losing their past two and playing to draws in three of their past five games.
“It doesn’t matter,” Sounders midfielder Kelyn Rowe said. “No matter how they’re playing now or how they’ve played the last three weeks, this is a different game and it always will be. This game is going to be a battle first because it is the rivalry of Seattle and Portland. It’s never going to be pretty; it’s never going to be what the last few weeks have shown because of the rivalry.”
Portland blasted Seattle 3-0 at Lumen Field in July. The Timbers opened the scoring in the 24th minute. Despite Sounders defender Jackson Ragen being sent off in the opening minute of the second half with a second yellow card, the Rave Green felt they played well.
Timbers midfielder Santiago Moreno scored a penalty in the 82nd minute and midfielder Dairon Asprilla followed with a goal in the 85th minute to seal the win.
The Sounders didn’t concede three goals again until last week’s draw against the Galaxy. But the 3-3 result was also the first time since June that Seattle has scored a bundle of goals in a single match.
Schmetzer tweaked his starting formation to have forwards Jordan Morris and Raul Ruidiaz play together up top to unlock the offense against LA. Ruidiaz is also completely healthy from a hamstring injury suffered against Portland, bagging a goal and assist against the Galaxy.
Ruidiaz is Seattle’s all-time scoring leader in the Cascadia derby with 10 goals, three in postseason matches.
“That game was messed up,” Sounders midfielder Albert Rusnak said of the July loss to Portland. “We haven’t conceded a lot of goals lately, but we’ve conceded a lot of sloppy, cheap goals that cost us points. We’re trying to strengthen that department, but (the formation) gives us a lot going forward with the two wingbacks, myself and Nico (Lodeiro) in the middle and two forwards. It has some advantages for sure.”
Scoring hasn’t been a problem for the Sounders at Providence Park. Seattle has outscored Portland 14-6 on the Timbers’ turf since 2019, Schmetzer hoping the quirk of the visitor displaying a winning show on the road continues for one more meeting.
“I’ve been part of the club for a while now where I know how difficult it is to go to your rival’s home and get a good result,” Sounders keeper Stefan Frei said. “We used to go down to Portland and get a tie and we’d be ecstatic about it. It would be the result of the year. For some reason over the last few years it’s flip-flopped, and it’s been embarrassing results for the home team. They did it to us again this year and it’s down to us to do the same thing when we go down there.”
The Sounders will be without midfielder Cristian Roldan, who underwent groin surgery on Tuesday. He attended training Thursday, sporting slides and a ball cap.
“Guys were giving him grief, calling him ‘Coach Roldan’ and ‘Why don’t you go stand over there by the coaches,’” Schmetzer said. “Cristian wasn’t having any of that. It’s good to have him out. He’ll start his rehab soon.”
Roldan was given a 4-6-week timeline to return.