The San Jose Earthquakes don’t show up on the Seattle Sounders’ schedule for another couple of weeks, and yet they turned up as an annoying thorn in the side twice recently.
At mid-week, the Quakes’ website produced a story calling San Jose’s California Clasico with Los Angeles “the premier rivalry in MLS.”
Later in the week, San Jose won the Clasico, 1-0, and that result vaulted them past Seattle into the sixth and final playoff position in the MLS Western Conference.
The Sounders hope to draw even again Sunday, when they host the Portland Timbers in what coach Sigi Schmid believes is the true premier rivalry in MLS.
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“I think the rivalry between Portland and Seattle is just the deepest one because it transcends soccer (and dates to) even the old days of the North American Soccer League,” said Schmid, who previously coached the Galaxy where he experienced the L.A.-San Jose rivalry first hand. “I don’t think the Aztecs and the old Earthquakes had a really intense rivalry, per se — I was around in those days as well. It’s also the cities. There’s maybe more of a rivalry between San Francisco and L.A. than there is between San Jose and L.A. But I think the city rivalry between the cities of Portland and Seattle runs pretty deep. It’s more than just sports related, it’s culturally related as well.”
While the ranking of rivalries is subjective, the MLS playoff race comes down to inarguable numbers. And for now, the Sounders are on the outside looking in: seventh in the West, and closer to last place than to first.
That led captain Brad Evans and goalkeeper Stefan Frei each to refer to this as a “do or die” situation for the Sounders.
“The reality is we’ve got to pick up points now, because if we don’t now — these next couple of home games — them we’re not making the playoffs,” Evans said. “We’ve got to get it done this weekend. … Right now the story line is, and the reality is, we’re fighting for that last playoff spot. Now we’ve got a rival at home.”
Not only a rival, but a playoff competitor. The Timbers come into this match five points ahead of the Sounders. But that number could increase to a relatively comfortable eight or whittle to a precariously uncomfortable two by the time an anticipated crowd of more than 63,000 drains from CenturyLink Field.
“This game is always going to have the intensity, no matter what,” Schmid said. “It doesn’t matter where you are in the standings. … It’s a game that has its own energy and has its own level, and it’s hard to imagine that you can add more do it. But there’s obviously a lot at stake.”
The Sounders have tumbled from first place to seventh by losing nine of their past 11 games. One of those was a 4-1 loss at Portland. And the collapse traces back to June 16 and a U.S. Open Cup loss to the Timbers that cost Seattle its top two goals leaders: Obafemi Martins to injury and Clint Dempsey to disciplinary suspension, then national-team duty, and then injury.
“They’ve had the better of those two games against us, and that’s hurt us dearly,” Frei said. “These games always have a little extra to it. I think now that we’re at home we want to take it to them. Obviously the points are at stake as well, and that’s a huge factor as well; but pride is on the line.”
Martins has returned to action, but Schmid was non-committal on the availability of Dempsey, along with midfielder Osvaldo Alonso and reserve forward Chad Barrett. But all were trained this week, and the stakes would seem to demand that all will return as soon as physically able.
“These are all pre-playoff games,” Schmid said. “There are no playoffs if we don’t start getting points.”
PORTLAND TIMBERS (11-8-7; 40 POINTS) AT SEATTLE SOUNDERS (11-13-2; 35)
2:01 p.m. Sunday, CenturyLink Field.
TV: ESPN. Radio: 97.3-FM.
Head to head: Seattle leads the all-time series, 6-3-4 in the MLS regular season, and 4-0-2 at home. This season, the Sounders won 1-0 at home on April 26, and the Timbers won 4-1 in Portland on June 28. The Timbers also eliminated Seattle from the U.S. Open Cup, 3-1, in a game generally credited for starting the Sounders’ tumble in the MLS standings.
Notes: Clint Dempsey, Osvaldo Alonso and Chad Barrett trained last week, but coach Sigi Schmid didn’t say whether they will be available. All have been out with hamstring injuries. Recently signed midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz (quadriceps) is out. … The Sounders are 2-9 over their past 11 league matches. Portland is 2-0-2 in August. … CenturyLink Field will be opened to its full capacity. A crowd of more than 63,000 is expected. … Seattle is 8-4-1 at home this season. The Timbers are 4-7-2 away. … Seattle Reign and U.S. national team members Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe will be presented with Golden Scarves before the match. … Fanendo Adi leads Portland with 10 goals. Obafemi Martins leads Seattle with nine. … Timbers coach Caleb Porter was born in Tacoma. Portland’s Andy Thoma and Taylor Peay played for the University of Washington. … Portland defender Diego Chara is out, starting a two-game suspension for a dangerous tackle against Houston’s Erick Torres. … Alonso and Seattle’s Andy Rose are one card away from a one-game suspension for accumulation. … The referee is Alan Kelly. … Both teams are trying to gain ground in the 2015 Cascadia Cup competition. Vancouver leads at 2-1-2, followed by Seattle 2-2-0 and Portland 1-2-2.
Quote: “They’re a little bit more direct. (They are) certainly trying to play to Adi’s strength up front — they know a little bit more how to use him. Is he going to be in their starting lineup (Sunday)? We don’t know. He hasn’t been in their last few games, but he’s come off the bench and had great effect against Houston off the bench.” — Schmid on the Timbers’ evolution in style.
Next: Sept. 5, vs. Toronto FC, 7 p.m., CenturyLink Field.