It was a rough start to the season for the Portland Timbers. They began 2018 with five games away from home and exactly zero wins. It was a stretch that no team ever wants to go through, especially at the start a campaign.
“Any team playing away from home at the start of the season is difficult,” Portland defender and captain Liam Ridgewell told SBI. “You want to try and get a home game to start the season and try and get off to a winning start and get that confidence under your belt. It’s tough when you go away and play five away games.”
Thankfully for Ridgewell and the Timbers, that five-game away swing led into a stretch that has the team playing four of five games at Providence Park, which they start off with three consecutive wins, including a 1-0 win in San Jose for their first road win of the year.
“Coming back we had the fans behind us and pushing us and it was obviously a good victory,” he said. “We’ve been working very hard in defending from the front and keeping compact and then spring boarding from that. It’s been a tough slog. But it’s good to come out the other end of it and show what Portland have really been, certainly over the time I’ve been here in the last four years.”
But the next challenge for the Timbers is one they are very familiar with: a rivalry clash with the Seattle Sounders.
It’s always intense when the Portland and Seattle meet. While it’s only recently become one of the most heated derbies in MLS, the rivalry has a history spanning more than four decades and three different leagues. It’s a game that fans and players look forward to each and every season.
“A lot is made of it and it’s one that we look at at the start of the season when the fixtures come out,” Ridgewell said. “You look for the first Seattle game, it’s always a tough game. They’re a very good team and we will be looking forward to Sunday.”
The Sounders do have a reputation as being one of the league’s top franchises, but 2018 hasn’t been kind to them so far. They sit second from the bottom in the West with only a pair of wins. The Sounders’ attack has been anemic so far, with only seven goals, second fewest in all of MLS.
Thanks to how they’ve dug themselves out of an early season hole, the Timbers know that a slow start is not a huge deal and Ridgewell knows that can’t take their rivals lightly because of that.
“Their start to the season is nothing to read into,” he said. “We had a difficult time at the start of the season and now look at us. We’ve turned it around with three wins in a row. We just have to make sure they don’t turn their season around against us on Sunday.”
It will be tough for a Sounders team that is struggling with injuries at the moment. Nicolas Lodeiro missed the team’s midweek MLS Cup rematch against Toronto FC with a fractured toe. Of equal importance is the absence of Jordan Morris, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. That has left Will Bruin to man the front line, presenting a different challenge to defenders like Ridgewell to handle.
“Will Bruin likes to hold it up and likes to win the play,” he said. “We have to be wary of Lodeiro and Dempsey, if they play, to come underneath and playing him balls through. Yeah, their two different players, but very dangerous in their own right.”
The Timbers have a plan up front, as well. It will be difficult to unlock a Seattle team that is very adept at keeping balls out of their own net. Their defense has the second best record in the league with only ten goals allowed.
“Obviously we will be playing to our game plan,” Ridgewell said. “We’ll be looking to get on the ball and keep possession and keep them under pressure. That said, it’s a game to look forward to and anything can happen in rivalry games.”