In its inaugural season, the Portland-Seattle rivalry is already the best in the MLS, by a wide margin.
The animosity between these two teams goes all the way back to their NASL days in the mid-seventies. There's also a natural, well, hatred between the two cities. Seattle is now known as a haven for mis-placed Californians and east coasters looking to cash in on Amazon and Microsoft stock (although Microsoft stock isn't what it once was).
Portland, on the other hand, does everything to stick to its roots and not sell out. The city slogan, "Keep Portland Weird", is a perfect embodiment of that philosophy.
Even the supporters of the two clubs are different. Sounder supporters tend to look like a bunch of geeks who got lost on their way to a Star Trek convention. Portland supporters look like they stumbled out of bar, got a tattoo, and then decided to go to a soccer game.
So, when they meet for the second time this year, it's not just bragging rights on the line, it's a clash of two cultures.
It's new-money materialism versus good, old fashioned bohemianism.
In their first clash in Seattle, Portland, undoubtedly, got the better of the two with a tie on enemy soil. Let's face it, for the Timbers to get a point in their inaugural season was a victory in itself.
Since then, however, the Timbers have gone 1-5-1 while the Sounders going 5-1-3. They are two clubs heading in opposite directions.
The Sounders are, perhaps, the hottest club in the league while the Timbers are in the midst of a losing streak they just can't seem to snap.
Many are already predicting a Seattle victory, even in noisy Portland Stadium. Yes, the crowd will make a difference, but after a 5-0 start that made national headlines, the Timbers have gone 0-3-1 at their stadium.
So much for the home field advantage.
Yet, in the face of such dire circumstances, there is hope for the Timbers to leave with three points after Sunday's game.
The first thing that must be said is that the Timbers slide isn't nearly as bad as it seems. They flat-out outplayed Colorado and New York and deserved to walk away with six points (rather than one). They gave up a goal within the last ten seconds of each game (something I've never seen at the professional level).
Against Chivas they played very well but were done in by world-class saves from the Chivas keeper. Even against D.C. United, they gave up a weak penalty when Diego Chara slid into the ball and inadvertently committed a hand ball.
They could very easily be 5-2 during this stretch.
If they play like they did against New York, this team can beat anyone in the MLS.
Simple as that.
So, let's start with the changes that I would make. Namely, bench Diego Chara. He's completely ineffective as a central and holding midfielder. Put Captain Jack Jewsbury in his position with Kalif Alhassan at a more attacking midfield position with Sal Zizzo and Darlington Nagbe playing the wings.
Jewsbury will bring some much needed leadership to the defensive end. As far as I'm concerned, the play of the defense is everything that's wrong with the team right now. They just give up way too many bone-headed goals.
Next, play Kenny Cooper facing the goal rather than continually looking to post-up. He's not a post-up player. As I've said before, go back and look at how Dallas played him. He's at his best when he's dropping back to the end of the penalty area and looking for rebounds or passes from penetrating forwards or midfielders. He doesn't have great dribbling skills, but he knows how to find space and make a crack at goal. Let him find that space and serve him the ball.
The midfielders must do one thing, and that's attack, attack, attack! Start making daring runs at the Seattle defenders. This goes for the likes of Futty Dunso as well. Kansas City had some amazing runs from their backfield that continually confused the Portland defense all night. It's time to start blitzing. Alhassan, in particular, has the technical skills to carve up the Seattle defense. If he can penetrate, and look for Cooper, Jewsbury, and Nagbe on the edges of the penalty area, that could be dangerous.
Perlazza is a great counter-attacking player and should have had two goals against Colorado on breakaways. Keep trying to find him on counter-attacks and allow him to beat defenders.
I don't know what to say about our defense other than it's a mess. They are continually out of position. What's worse, many of them are caught watching the ball while a midfielder makes a run behind them. How do you teach that at this level? I teach eighth graders that know better than to ball-watch.
I'd say it will help to get to an early lead, and it might, but Portland's problem all season has been maintaining composure until the final whistle. Against New York, they had a 3-1 lead with twenty minutes left and still managed to tie at 3-3. They just don't have any depth on the bench.
The good news is that the defense played a brilliant stretch and had clean sheets against Real Salt Lake, Philadelphia, and Columbus. They need to find that level of focus.
The simple fact is that this is a test. Can Portland show composure and win the biggest game of the season, and really start to turn their season around? If they play like they did against New York, then they absolutely can.