Slumping Timbers, Sounders meet for 1st of 3

In 11/2 seasons of Major League Soccer play, the Portland

Timbers have some impressive moments: sweeping Cascadia rival

Vancouver a year ago, beating Los Angeles last August when the

Galaxy were riding a 14-game unbeaten streak and nearly making the

MLS playoffs in their inaugural season.

They still haven’t beaten their Interstate 5 rival just three

hours to the north.

The most heated rivalry in U.S. soccer steps back into the

spotlight on Sunday afternoon when the Timbers host the Seattle

Sounders in the first of three meetings between the foes this

season.

Last year, the Timbers pulled out a 1-1 draw in Seattle, but

conceded a pair of second half goals in Portland for a 3-2 loss to

the Sounders.

Both times the atmosphere surrounding the games matched the

lofty expectations of what the Cascadia rivalry was going to bring

to the league.

“Obviously, the first game was up there in Seattle, and me and

(Seattle coach) Sigi (Schmid) met each other at the halfway line

and shook hands right before the game, and I’ll never forget what

he said. He said, ‘This is what big games are all about.’ I

couldn’t agree more,” Portland coach John Spencer said. “I thought

the atmosphere was electrifying, then obviously them coming down to

Portland was just the same. It was great, great intensity, the fans

were out in full force and their voices were singing for 90

minutes.”

Right now, Spencer and the Timbers would settle for any victory,

whether it came against their rivals or another MLS side. The

Timbers are just 3-6-4 overall, tied with Dallas for last in the

Western Conference, and have just one victory since mid-April.

Included in Portland’s recent struggles was a stunning loss in

the U.S. Open Cup to lower-division Cal FC that ruined a potential

fourth-round matchup between the Sounders and Timbers. During a

conference call with reporters on Thursday, Spencer became upset at

the mention of the Cal FC loss and Seattle’s subsequent victory

over Cal FC in the fourth-round.

“I thought we were here to talk about Seattle,” Spencer

snapped.

Portland does have just one loss in its last four matches – a

1-0 setback to Los Angeles last Saturday – but has been far from

its finest form. Same with Seattle, which saw its winless streak

reach six games when the Sounders were only able to manage a 1-1

draw with Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday night at home. The six

straight league games without a victory match the longest dry spell

in franchise history.

“We take it very, very seriously and obviously the last couple

of games the results haven’t gone our way so that makes it that

much more important,” Seattle defender Zach Scott said.

There is a chance Sunday’s match might see the return of

Seattle’s Steve Zakuani, who has been out since breaking his right

leg in April 2011. Zakuani was among Seattle’s eligible reserves

for Wednesday’s draw with Kansas City, but Schmid felt the

physicality of that game would not be the best spot for Zakuani’s

return.

But just watching a game from the bench rather than the press

box was a major step forward for Zakuani.

“I just want to play. I’ve upped my training to a really good

level now and the only way I’m going to get match fit and back to

my former level is playing games,” Zakuani said. “Of course, it

would be nice for it to be at home in front of our fans and get

that first comeback out of the way, but wherever it is I’ll be

happy to do it.”

The first meeting in the 2012 edition of the rivalry will also

have another subplot, with Mike Fucito becoming the first player to

play for both sides in the MLS era of the two franchises. Fucito

was traded from Seattle to Montreal as part of the deal that

brought Eddie Johnson to Seattle, and then was dealt from the

Impact to the Timbers in April.

“He’s on the other side now, so all of the sudden they’re the

good side,” Schmid said. “It all depends which side of the fence

you’re standing on.”