Scouting Report — No less than three points will do

When I think about what could happen tonight — it almost sounds like a nightmare.

In front of 67,000 rabid fans, 11 men wearing the rosiest of red kits strut onto our pitch and take our trophy right in front of our eyes.

The Emerald City Supporter’s Tifo display for the Vancouver match in August. Expect the Tifo against Portland to be bigger — much bigger.

In the four-year history of Seattle Sounders FC, there have been some incredibly important matches for the club, but for the fans and the Seattle soccer culture, this one against the Portland Timbers may just take the cake.

Not only are bragging rights at stake, but the Cascadia Cup as well — the trophy even us fans thought would be lost this season due to the unbalanced schedule. But no, like with everything else our Sounders showed resolve and a win tonight puts all the pressure on Portland in their Cascadia finale against Vancouver.

Out of those 67,000 it’s fair to expect a few thousand Timbers fans in attendance, but the pure white noise of groups like the ECS and the rest of the Rave Green supporters will drown them out. It will be a fortress which pits our best 11 versus theirs — and oh yeah, ours is much better.

Like I’ve said in all of these rivalry previews though, it’s so easy to just throw form and skill out the window as the passion increases. This cannot be the case tonight.

Everything points to a perfect storm for Seattle — see the Vancouver match in August as an example.

Three players will leave the Sounders side following the match for international duties (Eddie Johnson said he is but there is no confirmation of that yet), so we’ll not be missing key players for that reason. We’ll also be clean on the injury front as both Christian Tiffert and Mauro Rosales are fully healthy.

We also have the advantage of CenturyLink’s beautiful fake pitch that we love so much. In fact I wonder of the Dixie Chicks will be singing the National Anthem since there will be “Wide open spaces” all down our wings for the mids and backs to fly up.

Somehow I also don’t see goal scoring being a problem tonight. Johnson and Fredy Montero are a top three strike duo in the league and with the slight lull the team has been in the past three weeks, an explosive performance may just be the prescription for a beat down and a return to prominence.

The other thing to remember is that we’re still desperately competing for playoff position. Seattle currently sits in fourth place in the Western Conference at a time where all the right teams are getting hot. With only four matches remaining including tonight, it’s safe to say that no less than nine of 12 possible points are needed to secure that ever-important third place spot. Tonight will be the easiest points of them all — by far.

From Portland, expect a dedicated and determined group to step out on the pitch. They will leave everything on the table for themselves and their strong supporters groups who in a year of so much loss, are look for their biggest win. That much passion may spell disaster for a lack-luster Seattle side, but it may also be a recipe for implosion upon themselves in a red-card-fueled rage fest. They will struggle with the big pitch, and although their little baseball stadium does get loud — it never gets 67,000 people loud.

Keys to victory

We don’t hear at all about our back four.

The best defender? The one we never hear about. That needs to be the case tonight for the Sounders back wall, who need to play a strong enough match that keeper Michael Gspurning can have a big Austrian tea party for 90 minutes in goal. It’s safe to assume here that you go with your veterans centrally in Jeff Parke and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, but don’t count out Pat Ianni if there’s any question about Hurtado. On the wings Adam Johansson may just be the best attacking right back in the MLS, but damn that guy worries me on defense. He has to be better at picking his times to attack and be stronger in defense. The opposite goes for left back Leo Gonzalez who too often sits back for the entire match giving no attacking support. Get up a bit on the wings and expose the space.

Mauro needs the magic back.

Remember July-August — that magical time when everything that graced the foot of Mauro Rosales was basically pure gold? Then as with last season, injury struck. Well thankfully Rosales is back and healthy again, but his form is still a little off. Tonight just may be the night though where he takes back control of the offense. A couple of good crosses into the box and your bound to find the head of EJ. SItting outside our defensive 18 waiting to spring a counter — no one is better. Tonight is the night we get Maruo Back.

Speed to burn.

I’ve already mentioned the spaces open on the flanks, now lets get some speed in there. The answer — Steve Zakuani. In just the last few months, Steve has made his first appearance, start, got his first assist and finally his first goal since returning from injury, and now he’s looking like the old Zak we all remember. Give him the start at his best position, left winger, and let him burn the Timbers defense up and down the pitch.

Projected Starting XI

I’m throwing a bit of a curveball out here, and saying that manager Sigi Schmid is going to change his formation tonight to best use the ability of his players. Instead of the diamond 4-4-2, I’m expecting (hoping actually) to see a 4-2-3-1 employed against an outmatched Portland side.

GK, Michael Gspurning
CB, Jeff Parke    CB, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado*
RB, Adam Johansson                               LB, Leo Gonzalez
CM, Osvaldo Alonso       CAM, Christian Tiffert
RM, Mauro Rosales      CAM, Fredy Montero     LM, Steve Zakuani
FW, Eddie Johnson
* Patrick Ianni could also start in this spot.

Prediction

For once, I’m going to leave the cliche alone and not say that anything can happen in a rivalry match. If Seattle does’t win, there goes the Cascadia Cup and in many ways a shot at a top three finish. The players, coaches and most importantly fans won’t let that happen — not in Seattle. Seattle wins 4-1.

What I’m watching for

The supporters (ECS, Gorilla FC, etc.) tifo display. From the rumors I’ve heard, it’ll be pretty spectacular. And if it’s anything like last season’s “Decades of Dominance” display we’ll be in for a treat.