Sounders FC midfielder Steve Zakuani knows what to expect from the Portland Timbers when the Northwest rivalry resumes at 5 p.m. Saturday at CenturyLink Field — even without watching them play.
For all the changes the Timbers made over the offseason, their biggest was the arrival of coach Caleb Porter. Zakuani played under Porter at the University of Akron and correctly assumed that he would deliver his possession-oriented attacking soccer to the Rose City.
“He would never, ever change his style,” Zakuani said. “Never, ever. He believes in it so much. (In December 2011), a few of us were back at his house — we went to see him for a bit — and he spoke for three hours on his soccer philosophy, and he just wouldn’t stop. He’ll never change that style. … They’re going to work hard, give their all for the coach. His teams kind of carry his personality.”
That personality is “intense.” That’s the word Zakuani used multiple times; and so did Sounders rookie defender DeAndre Yedlin, who played his previous two seasons under Porter at Akron.
“Caleb’s definitely a yeller, (while Sounders coach Sigi Schmid) is a bit more calm,” Yedlin said. “But they’re both great coaches — a little bit different playing style, but they’re still both very good coaches.”
Dialing back the screaming is one of the ways Porter said he is adapting from Akron, where he had a 123-18-17 record in seven seasons, to Major League Soccer, where he is off to an 0-1-1 start. But he also said that intensity is simply part of who he is.
The bigger changes are the ones made in the roster and attitude of the Timbers, who had an 8-16-10 record last season under coach John Spencer and interim coach Gavin Wilkinson.
“They’ve changed formations, playing a 4-2-3-1, and Caleb has that style that they played in college and bringing that style into the pros,” Schmid said. “So from that standpoint they’re a much more possession-oriented team than they’ve been in the past, and maybe a little less dangerous on set pieces right now.”
The changes haven’t shown in the standings, after Portland followed a 3-3 draw against New York with a 2-1 loss against Montreal — both at home.
As four goals and 40 shots over two games indicate, there are offensive options. Among them are designated player Diego Valeri, newcomers Will Johnson and Ryan Johnson, and forward/midfielder Darlington Nagbe, who has begun realizing the potential he showed under Porter at Akron.
However, there have been massive lapses in the defense while newcomers such as French center back Mikael Silvestre, who was acquired from Seattle for a Supplemental Draft pick, break in.
“We have given up goals and shot ourselves in the foot in a few moments,” Porter said. “We haven’t given up a ton of chances, but the chances we’ve given up have been quality chances. … But we also don’t want to lose the positive things that we’ve done in the attack. So, from my standpoint, there’s a lot more positives than negatives.”
Dates have not been set, but the Sounders know they will face Santos Laguna of Mexico in their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal series early next month. The clubs also met last year in CCL competition, with Santos advancing by 7-3 on aggregate, including a 6-1 win on its home pitch. “I think we’ve learned from that experience,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “… So we need to implement what we’ve learned. We have to do a better job at home than we did the first time. The last time we played them we scored two (at home). If we can get two again and not give one up, then that’s a good thing for us.” … Schmid indicated Thursday that midfielder Brad Evans (calf) won’t be ready for Portland.