Maybe the Portland Timbers are just what the Seattle Sounders need right now.
The Sounders ended up tied with Orlando City, who scored in the dying seconds of their 1-1 game on Wednesday at CenturyLink Field in another game where their ‘big 3’ of Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris failed to get a goal. That leaves the Sounders with a 5-7-5 mark at the half way point of a season they knew would be a challenge given their early schedule configuration and their status as the defending MLS champions.
So a game against their Cascadia Cup rivals, in Portland, could be what gets them focused and moving in the right direction? Consider: The Sounders have two wins against the Timbers this season, a 1-0 victory at home on May 27, and a 2-1 win in a U.S. Open Cup match last week. Since 1975, the Sounders have a 50-35-12 advantage.
Sounders goalie Stefan Frei said the team has not played up to expectations so far.
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“Overall I’m happy that we’re in the mix because I don’t think we’ve played anywhere near our capabilities,” he said. “We’re not in desperation mode like we were last year with a massive hole and almost no light at the end of the tunnel. I think we’ve shown sparks and know what we need to do. Most importantly, we know what we’re capable of and it’s just a matter of really doing it.”
And there’s the Timbers themselves, who aren’t really clicking either. In addition to the Open Cup loss to the Sounders, Portland lost 2-1 on the road to the Rapids last weekend when they gave up both Colorado goals in the second half.
Portland, even with its recent struggles, is ahead of Seattle in the standings. The Timbers are 7-7-3 and have 24 points, which ties them for second place in the Western Conference with Houston. Seattle, with 20 points, sits in a three-way tie with San Jose and Vancouver for the sixth and final playoff spot.
The Sounders are not in as deep of hole as last year when their first-half slump got long-time coach Sigi Schmid fired in July. A win at Providence Park in Portland could signal set the tone for the season’s second half.
Coach Brian Schmetzer said getting more offense would cure a lot of what ails the Sounders.
“We are going to have to continue to work on our attacking movements. We are going to have to work on our mentality – we talked about how it’s life-or-death defending, but it’s also life-or-death on the attacking side of the ball, as well,” Schmetzer said.
“We did a lot of work with the forwards, and we will continue to do that. They are of that quality where something’s going to break for us. Hopefully how goalscorers… once they start scoring a few goals, a lot of that stuff takes care of itself.”
Another sign that better days might be ahead? Seattle is 4-1-3 at home so far, a mark upon which it will hope to improve during the second half of the season. The Sounders will play nine of its final 17 games at CenturyLink Field.
“First and foremost, we have to take care of business at home,” Frei said. “But even if you do that, at some point you have to do something on the road. What better way to do it than to go down to Portland, which tends to be a good side at home. I’m sure they’re going to be up for it. We have to make sure we’re up for it.”