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I feel like we’ve been spoiled all summer. Pretty much anytime I turned on the TV there was a major international tournament to watch. First, Copa América ended with a dramatic penalty shootout with tears from Lionel Messi (before his 21-month prison sentence). Last weekend, we saw the end of the Euros in equally as dramatic fashion as Éder broke millions of French hearts with an extra time strike to win the tournament for Portugal.

I know what you’re thinking, what do I do now without constant soccer to distract me from working? Don’t worry, we still have MLS. This weekend, we get to watch arguably the biggest derby match in the league as the Seattle Sounders take on the Portland Timbers. Seattle and Portland are both currently out of the playoff picture with the Sounders just two points above dead last in the Western Conference. Can a derby win help revive one of these teams’ seasons?

Let’s start off with the visiting side: Seattle. They couldn’t really ask for a better result to come off going into this derby day. Thursday night, Sigi Schmid’s squad absolutely battered the best team in the league, FC Dallas, 5-0 at CenturyLink Field. Granted, they did have a man-advantage starting in the fourth minute, but less than 30 minutes later Clint Dempsey (who scored earlier in the match) levelled the numbers getting sent off himself. The offensive explosion was the first time since June 2nd that the Sounders have managed to score more than a single goal in a match in league competition. Now they’ll have to try and replicate just a fraction of that without their leading striker missing out through suspension.

That means that the pressure of scoring will switch from one American’s shoulders to another. At the start of the season, I predicted that Jordan Morris would take home the Rookie of the Year award. Morris’ learning curve going into the pros was a little bit steeper than expected. It took six games for him find the back of the net, but after that he scored in four straight matches. In his last three matches, he’s found grabbed two goals (not including the brace he bagged against West Ham in a friendly). The 21-year-old is no stranger to pressure, and I don’t think that the pressure of his first Portland-Seattle derby will affect him too much.

Switching over to the Timbers, things haven’t exactly gone to plan for the defending MLS Cup Champions this season. In their last five matches, Caleb Porter’s team have won just a single match and were even knocked out of the US Open Cup by the LA Galaxy (I’d like to take this moment to remind everyone that it took LA a fluke goal to beat a semiprofessional team earlier in the tournament). While the Sounders’ position in the conference is terrible, Portland’s isn’t looking too much better. Right now, the Timbers are sitting in seventh, and are just six points ahead of their rivals. Through 20 matches, they’ve won just six times. Despite this less than stellar first half of the season, a win on Sunday could potentially bump Portland into the Western Conference playoff picture.

One major issue that has plagued Portland so far this season is their defense. In the Western Conference, the Timbers have the joint-second worst goals against record (30). Last year during the regular season, they allowed just 39 goals (tied for third best in the conference). While the absence of Clint Dempsey will relieve some of the pressure on Portland’s somewhat porous backline, Seattle still has other attacking options that can be just as lethal. Providence Park hasn’t seemed to give the Timbers any real advantage either, as they’ve given up the same amount of goals there (15) that they have when they’re travelling. Will the derby day atmosphere give them an extra boost, or will we see this troubling trend continue?

Despite their uninspiring defensive record, I think that Portland has the edge in this fixture. The Sounders have won just a single away game in the league this season, and the absence of Clint Dempsey isn’t going to give Seattle’s fans any added optimism going into the hostile environment of Portland. Final score: Portland 1-0 Seattle


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