The Portland Timbers will play in training tops rather than their official game jerseys Saturday when they meet the Seattle Sounders here for a friendly.
That means the Sounders won’t have to face a Timbers team wearing a star above its crest — indicative of Portland’s 2015 MLS Cup championship. But they know that day is coming: July 17 in Portland. And again Aug. 21 in Seattle. And Aug. 28 back in Portland. And forever after.
“It’s a difficult pill for us to swallow,” Seattle captain Brad Evans said. “We’ve been around a little bit longer, so we might have expected to be there before them. But at the end of the day, now it’s a challenge for us not only to reach MLS Cup but to win. … The unfortunate thing is they’ll always have No. 1 above us.”
The Timbers finished two points ahead of the Sounders in the 2015 MLS standings, while Seattle took the 2015 Cascadia Cup. However, the Sounders were eliminated in the Western Conference semifinals while Portland made it through the West, advanced to MLS Cup — which Seattle has never done in its seven seasons — and then won the final, 2-1, at Columbus.
“It’s not something we’re happy about for sure, but definitely congratulations to them for winning the championship,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “We wanted to establish ourselves as being a consistent team and a team that’s always going to be in contention. … We’re happy with what we’ve done. Are we ecstatic? Because we didn’t win the ultimate prize, probably not at this stage.”
A couple of training fields over at Kino Sports Complex, the Timbers passed on their opportunity to gloat.
“Obviously it gives us a little bit of bragging rights,” Portland coach Caleb Porter said. “But it’s the past. It’s over. No one cares about last year now, they’re focused on this year. ... Last year was great, (but) at the end of the season no one will remember last year. They’ll remember this year.”
Porter surely overstates when he says no one cares about last year. Supporters care. Passionately. So, Evans empathizes with Sounders fans while bracing for the reminders certain to come from the Timbers Army.
“I’m sure we’ll see the tifo, we’ll see the banter going back and forth,” Evans said. “But that’s soccer. I think we all feel a little bit bummed that we couldn’t give it to our fans first, but it’s something for us to reach for.”
Seattle starts meaningful competition Feb. 23 with the home leg of its CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against Club America, then begins MLS play March 6 at CenturyLink Field against Sporting Kansas City. Portland opens defense of its MLS title March 6 in a home rematch with the Crew.
Preparing for those games is why both teams are in Tucson this week. Each played friendlies Wednesday: Portland drawing 1-1 with Houston, Seattle losing 2-1 to Vancouver. Both also have faced host FC Tucson of the Premier Development League in game-like conditions.
Each expects emotions to rise when they meet head-to-head at 6 p.m. Saturday (streamed on SoundersFC.com).
Porter said he plans to use his first unit for about 60 minutes, while Schmid said his starters will play only the first half before increasing their minutes Tuesday against Mexic’s Celaya FC.
Three trialists have been released from Seattle’s training roster: defender Anthony Wallace, midfielder Ben Speas and former S2 midfielder Sergio Mata. General manager Garth Lagerwey said he expects a final roster of around 28 players, including the likely signing of at least one player now on trial. … Homegrown forward Jordan Morris is expected to arrive in Arizona on Saturday from his duty with the U.S. national team. … U.S. Soccer announced Friday that MLS teams will join the 2016 U.S. Open Cup on June 15 in the fourth round of the tournament.