By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx
Sunday, May 13: 1-0 Win
What is best in life?
There are few things in life more satisfying than a win against the Seattle Sounders. And
- a shutout
- at home
- against the Sounders
- for the 100th matchup versus the Portland Timbers
- on Mothers Day
- accompanied by two of my children
- surrounded by a passionate group of over 20,000 Timbers supporters
…okay, I will readily admit that this was PARTICULARLY satisfying.
— sheba ⭐ (@shebainpdx) May 13, 2018
Rivalry and history
In the run-up to the match, I had a jumble of feelings. Of COURSE, any game against the Sounders is huge. And this matchup was, by most counts, the Timbers’ 100th time to face the Sounders, in one league or another, in one form or another, since 1975.
The rivalry between our two teams is deep, long-standing, and very, very real. There are many videos that address the enmity between the two (Copa90 created a couple of excellent ones: take this one, for example). And this one from several years ago is one of my favorites. While the video’s primary focus is the Timbers Army, the backdrop is a home game against the Sounders, and the attitude and spirit in the stands for a rivalry match are captured brilliantly.
The fact that it was our 100th matchup was also not lost on anyone. The Portland Timbers released a brilliant mockumentary to commemorate the occasion:
The rivalry between the Timbers and Sounders dates back to the NASL era in the 1970s.
The Timbers and Sounders, along with the third Cascadia Beatle, the Vancouver Whitecaps, also have a supporter-created contest among the three teams: the Cascadia Cup.
Dating back to the USL era, the Cascadia Cup is created, owned, and managed by supporters. It is awarded to whichever Cascadia team wins the most points in head to head matches among the three teams (see this page for an explanation of the rules).
The Timbers are currently in possession of the Cascadia Cup, and I get the joy of showing it off to visitors to the Timbers Army fanladen (clubhouse) before every home game.
Out of balance
We relish every opportunity to cheer on our boys as they face off against their greatest rivals. At the same time, supporters on all sides of the Cascadia Cup are very disappointed with the league’s schedule this year. When a rivalry this deep, intense, and enduring exists, it is difficult for supporters like me to swallow a league schedule that intentionally unbalances a rivalry matchup.
As the number of teams in the league changes, the schedule must also change: but it is beyond disappointing that this year the league saw fit to create such an uneven schedule.
For many years, we will have to deal with the reality that some teams will have more home games than others in head to head matchups, which is challenging enough in a rivalry.
This year, however, not only do the Timbers, Sounders, and Whitecaps have an uneven number of home and away Cascadia matches among them: the three clubs don’t even face each other the same number of times during the regular season. This means that, for the first time in MLS history, a regular season Cascadia match will not count in the standings toward the Cascadia Cup.
The last time this happened was during the USL era when it was more common for teams to fold mid-season and for league schedules to change in medias res. Based on the unanimous decision of the Cascadia Cup Council, while last Sunday’s match will, of course, count in MLS league standings, the result will not count toward the awarding of the Cascadia Cup this year.
The Timbers Army made their feelings about the unbalanced schedule clear in this three-stick display:
— Timbers Army (@timbersarmy) May 13, 2018
And on the occasion of the 100th matchup of the Timbers and Sounders, that outcome is, to put it mildly, unfortunate.
All right, enough prelude…on to the match!
With a decimated lineup, the Sounders used a formation designed to absorb pressure, shut down work through the middle, and hope for an opportunity on the counter-attack, an approach that worked well for them midweek against Toronto FC. In this case, the Sounders deployed a 5-4-1 with Clint Dempsey as the lone striker. With the injuries the Sounders have suffered, they didn’t have a whole lot of other options, and with Dempsey as the lone striker up top, they weren’t really set up to go on the attack either.
The Timbers went with the same 4-3-2-1 lineup they used to full effect against the San Jose Earthquakes. On a hot day with both sides playing conservatively, it wouldn’t have been at all surprising if the match had ended in a draw; but this was a Timbers-Sounders match, so anything could happen.
While our rivals to the north weren’t exactly lighting up the scoreboard, they were also doing a decent job on defense. For most of the game, the Sounders made it difficult for the Timbers to find opportunities. They had a few chances, in particular, this shot by Diego Valeri that was thwarted with a brilliant challenge by Sounders defender Gustav Svensson:
Svensson with an incredible saving challenge here pic.twitter.com/kbEiDqLs0m
— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) May 13, 2018
The Timbers had another chance to score, this time from Andy Polo, stopped by Sounders keeper Stefan Frei:
Big save from Stefan Frei pic.twitter.com/fn3gbqWAq5
— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) May 13, 2018
Ultimately, though, the Timbers were finally able to break through, thanks to the vision of Samuel Armenteros, a late-game substitute for forward Fanendo Adi. Armenteros did a brilliant job of threading the needle with this pass to Sebastian Blanco, who slotted it home for the only goal of the match:
Blanco with the breakthrough. 1-0 Portland. pic.twitter.com/GplnDWueq7
— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) May 13, 2018
Blanco continues to step up. Between offseason roster changes and a year’s experience to get accustomed to MLS, Blanco has taken on a bigger offensive role this year, with 5 goals and an assist so far this season. He did the job for the Timbers again on Sunday, putting it into the back of the net for the win.
Blanco’s celebration after scoring the goal included briefly donning a Chucky mask, a move that seemed no doubt bizarre to casual onlookers, but it has a simple explanation. Blanco’s nickname among his friends in Argentina is Chucky, presumably because he is tiny and FIERCE. (His bio says he is 5’6″ but I’m sure that is only in cleats and after some carefully applied hair gel.) Vamos, Chucky. I’m sure your offensive ability already frightens opposing teams, even without the mask.
Still no clear front-runner at striker. Fanendo Adi is still our starting striker, and while he isn’t terrible, he still hasn’t done anything, in particular, to stand out this season. I was glad to see Samuel Armenteros get to the field a little bit earlier this game, subbing in for Adi at 77′.
Both strikers still had some okay plays and some head-scratching moments on Sunday, but ultimately this is a game of results. Take a look again at this pass and tell me Armenteros doesn’t deserve more time in the lineup:
The pass. The chip. The mask. The Complete Look.
— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) May 14, 2018
Swiss army knife fullback continues to shine. Right back (and most recently left back) Zarek Valentin is having a good run. He has always had good field sense and soccer intelligence, but his lack of speed has sometimes meant another player starting in his stead.
But with injuries to the squad, most notably with Vytautas Andriuškevičius on the sidelines, Zarek has often taken on a starting role on either side of the defensive line and has done so admirably. As long as he isn’t facing a frightening speed burner on the wings, I like what he contributes to the defense.
Speaking of defense. Hey, guys, the Timbers just recorded their third shutout in a row. The last time they did that George W. Bush was President. No, really. While it is true that two of these shutouts came against less than stellar opponents, it is also worth noting that they coincide with the return of Jeff Attinella and Liam Ridgewell to the starting lineup. Just saying.
What a wonderful way to end the weekend…for some of us.
— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) May 13, 2018
See you all next Saturday, when the Timbers face Los Angeles FC at home in Portland.
Featured image courtesy: Shawn Levy
Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @shebainpdx
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