For the Seattle Sounders, the season's final Cascadia Cup match is clearly the most important. Following last weekend's 0-0 draw in Vancouver, the Ssounders need a win (as well as some help from the Whitecaps next weekend) to hold on to the trophy; more importantly, three points would drastically improve Seattle's chances of avoiding the post-season play-in round and keep them away from the San Jose Earthquakes for at least a bit longer. And though it seems odd to say given their relatively high place in the table and a playoff spot secured, the Sounders are looking very much like a team in need of some confidence following a brutal September.
For most teams in need of a win, there are few games that look more attractive than Portland at home. To call the Timbers season a disappointment would be an understatement, as a team that looked at the very least capable of qualifying for the playoffs coming into the season has instead averaged less than one point per game, good enough to keep them ahead of only Chivas USA in the Western Conference. But Portland's overall record doesn't really tell the whole story. At home, they've been the team most people expected at the start of the season; their 26 points at Jeld-Wen Field is just two fewer than the number the Sounders have accumulated at CenturyLink. On the road, however, the Timbers have been a disaster; an 0-4-11 record, just nine goals scored, and a -20 in the goal difference column.
With just two wins away from Jeld-Wen last season it isn't as though Portland's road struggles are a new phenomenon, but they've taken things to a new level this season and it's crippled them. The Timbers are very much built to excel on their somewhat unique home pitch, but that's nowhere near sufficient in terms of an explanation for their incompetence in away matches. There's a fair amount of evidence that would suggest Portland's true talent level is higher than their point total, but the reason they've fallen short of expectations is clear. You don't have to be a great or even good road team to compete in MLS, but you do have to be better than the worst.
If Portland is to end (or at least ease) their misery away from home, they'll need to do so while being a bit short-handed. Designated Player Kris Boyd is out with an adductor strain, Kalif Alhassan is doubtful with patellar tendinitis and while Diego Chara and Donovan Ricketts are both listed as probable, whether either will start is not certain. The Sounders are very close to full-strength, with Patrick Ianni the only regular currently on the injury report, listed as probable. But Seattle's health is not (for once) the biggest question surrounding the team at the moment. A very bad September and uninspiring performance against the Whitecaps last weekend has raised questions about whether the Sounders are cooling off at the wrong time. With the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake heating up, for Seattle to enter the playoffs flat would not bode well for their chances of finally making it past the first round of the playoffs.
This is a win both teams need very badly. Portland will be desperate to salvage something of their season, and winning the Cascadia Cup on the home turf of their most bitter rivals would certainly give Timbers fans something to smile about. The stakes aren't quite as high in a single-match sense for Seattle, but it's been quite awhile since they looked like an especially impressive team. With the postseason secured they don't really need to click until the regular season ends, but for the sake of their standing in the league table and the emotional well-being of their fans, some sign that they're headed in the right direction would be a positive sign. This is one of the oldest rivalries in North American soccer, it's undeniably the most contentious rivalry in MLS, 66,000+ people will be in attendance. These games don't really need much in the way of subplot in order to be compelling, but the Timbers and Sounders have provided a couple that are pretty compelling.