For Sounders, it’s regrouping first, rivalry second this weekend
Seattle has a chance to clinch a playoff berth and claim the Cascadia Cup with a win against the Timbers on Sunday, but Sigi Schmid and his team are focused mainly on shoring up a defense that has allowed nine goals in two games.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Sounders @ Timbers, 6 p.m., ESPN
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TUKWILA – It may come as a surprise, but the Portland Timbers were rarely brought up around Sounders FC in the buildup to Sunday’s clash between the rivals.
Seattle has enough to worry about on its own.
Heading into a nationally televised bout on the road, the Sounders have to fix a defense that has surrendered nine goals in its last two losses and resolve a goalkeeper controversy for the first time in franchise history.
The stakes are also as high as they’ve been this season.
A win would clinch a playoff berth — something the Sounders have failed to do in their last three games — as well as the Cascadia Cup. A tie or loss would give the regional trophy to Vancouver.
“It’s probably one of our biggest games of the year,” said defender DeAndre Yedlin, “not only in terms of points and where we finish in the standings, but in terms of pride for our city and for ourselves.”
Portland is on a five-game unbeaten streak at 3-0-2 and boasts the best home record in MLS at 10-1-4. But when coach Sigi Schmid was asked what concerns him most about the Timbers, he turned it back on the Sounders.
“What concerns me right now is just our team,” he said. “It’s all about us and making sure we’re ready to play.”
That means from the opening whistle.
Seattle was trailing just 12 minutes into Wednesday’s game against Vancouver. Four days earlier, the Sounders were losing 2-0 just 10 minutes in against the Colorado Rapids.
“It was a problem in those games, but it can’t be a problem going forward,” said defender Patrick Ianni. “We have to let it go, like everything in life, learn from it and be excited to play. I think you get away from the excitement of playing sometimes and you start dwelling on mistakes. That doesn’t help anyone.”
What might help is a change at goalkeeper. The team is considering replacing starter Michael Gspurning with backup Marcus Hahnemann. It marks the team’s first real controversy at the position, as Kasey Keller was the clear No. 1 in 2009-11 and Gspurning had been his unquestioned successor until now.
Nine goals allowed has already matched a franchise-worst for a month, and that came in just two games.
Schmid said after Saturday’s practice that the decision on his starting goalkeeper hadn’t been made yet. The coach also indicated a potential move would be due to Gspurning’s sputtering confidence, not the team’s confidence in him.
“Is Michael the goalkeeper who was averaging basically a goal against a game or is he the guy who’s taken nine goals in two games?” Schmid said. “I think he’s the guy who’s averaged a goal against a game. ... It’s a matter of us finding our form again.
“Sometimes our form is off or we lose a bit of confidence, whatever the case may be. Sometimes you have to make a temporary move or temporary adjustment to deal with that.”
• Eddie Johnson has returned to the Sounders after suffering a groin strain with the U.S. national team. He leads Seattle with nine goals. Defender Zach Scott is also unavailable for Seattle is due to suspension.
• Forward Obafemi Martins (groin) and defender Leo Gonzalez (hip/groin) will be game-time decisions. Clint Dempsey’s role coming back from a hamstring injury, whether as a starter or reserve, will also be determined Sunday.
• Shalrie Joseph has suffered a setback regarding a calf issue that has plagued him all year.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @joshuamayers