PORTLAND — Jeld-Wen Field will be rocking from the start.
A sellout crowd will be on hand Sunday for one of the hottest rivalries in Major League Soccer: Seattle Sounders FC against the Portland Timbers. A national audience will be watching on ESPN.
The last thing the visiting Sounders need in that powder keg is the spark of a quick Portland goal.
Early goals have been a problem for Seattle in its last two outings: Colorado took the lead 15 seconds into the match – the second-fastest goal in MLS history – on its way to a 5-1 win last weekend, and Vancouver took the lead in the 12th minute in a 4-1 victory Wednesday.
“Goals change games,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “So obviously the recurring theme is us giving up early goals. … In Colorado we fell asleep twice and we’re down 2-0. And you really look at Vancouver and it was basically two shots on goal, two goals. So from that standpoint – ‘unlucky’ is not the right word because you create your own luck – but we haven’t been disciplined enough to be sure that doesn’t happen.”
Making sure it doesn’t happen again seems especially important Sunday because when the Timbers score first, they are 10-0-6. When they lead at halftime, they are 6-0-2.
Early goals also have foretold success for Seattle. The Sounders are 10-0-3 when leading at halftime, and have a league-high 48-game unbeaten streak when scoring first (38-0-10).
“Against Colorado we were just slow in a sense, where they scored on us at 20 seconds or whatever it was, and we just didn’t recover,” midfielder Steve Zakuani said. “I think Vancouver was pretty clinical, but we just gave up bad chances. … The manner we’ve lost the last two games is not good enough, and so Sunday becomes a very big game for us. We have to put this behind us as quickly as possible – that’s the most important thing.”
Getting ahead of the Timbers is no easy thing – especially on their home pitch. A five-game unbeaten streak has left Portland one point behind the Sounders – 51-50 – in the Western Conference. The Timbers are unbeaten in their last 13 home matches.
The stakes are high. With a win, the Sounders clinch a playoff spot and the 2013 Cascadia Cup. With a loss or draw, the playoff quest continues and the Cascadia Cup heads north to Vancouver.
Defender Patrick Ianni thinks that kind of high-stakes challenge might be just what the Sounders need to be jolted out of their recent funk.
“The rivalry’s fun,” Ianni said. “And I think we need to go out there just enjoying things again, not like getting down. I think the team has a positive spirit, and that’s the way it should be. You get down, you’re just stressing about things you can’t deal with anymore. I think it’s about going out and enjoying the challenge.”
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (15-10-6; 51 POINTS) AT PORTLAND TIMBERS (12-5-14; 50)
6 p.m., Jeld-Wen Field, Portland
TV: ESPN. Radio: 97.3-FM, 99.3-FM (Spanish)
Head to head: The Sounders lead the MLS series 3-1-3 overall and have gone 1-1-1 in Portland. The teams played to a 1-1 draw in March, and Seattle took a 1-0 win in August, both at CenturyLink Field. The Sounders lead the all-time series across all leagues, 42-28-11.
Notes: With a win, Seattle would clinch a playoff spot and the 2013 Cascadia Cup. Any other result extends the Sounders’ playoff quest and gives the Cup to Vancouver. The Timbers cannot clinch a playoff spot this weekend, and they have been eliminated from Cup contention. … The teams rank second and third in the MLS Western Conference. … Seattle is on a four-game winless streak (0-2-2) and has lost its last two matches by a combined 9-2. Portland is on a five-game unbeaten streak (3-0-2). The Timbers also have a 13-game unbeaten streak at home (10-0-3). … Darlington Nagbe leads Portland with nine goals, while Diego Valeri leads with 12 assists. … Seattle will be without goals leader Eddie Johnson, who suffered a groin injury while away with the U.S. national team. Brad Evans is also away on duty with the national team, while Portland will be without Rodney Wallace (Costa Rica) and Ryan Johnson and Alvas Powell (Jamaica). … Seattle coach Sigi Schmid indicated the availability of Clint Dempsey (hamstring), Obafemi Martins (groin) and Leo Gonzalez (hip) are game-time decisions. He did not say whether Michael Gspurning or Marcus Hahnemann would start in goal. … The Sounders will wear their “Super Cyan” uniforms to avoid conflict with the Timbers’ home green. … The referee is Hilario Grajeda.
Quotable: “It gives me goose bumps right now, and I’m excited to hear our fans when we walk in there. It’s going to be a great place to be on Sunday.” – Seattle defender Patrick Ianni on the rivalry.
Next: 11:30 a.m. Saturday, at FC Dallas.