[MLS WHAT TO WATCH: WEEK 9] With a short turnaround for teams that played on Wednesday, and several star attackers injured, this weekend could be one of survival in many cases as MLS nears the one-third point of the season. The weekend's main attraction is the first clash between Northwest rivals Seattle and Portland.
CASCADIA CUP. The usual sellout crowd at Qwest Field gets its first dose of Northwest rivalry since the NASL days when the Timbers come to town Saturday (11 p.m. ET, ESPN2/Deportes).
The modern versions have played many times in USL and Open Cup play since they last met as NASL teams in 1982. The Timbers folded after that season, the Sounders lasted one more year, and the league folded the year after that.
(Remember that long, drawn-out debate a few years ago regarding the Seattle team nickname in MLS? Funny how that hasn’t seemed to be an issue in Portland, nor in Vancouver for that matter.)
Anywhere from 500 to 1,000 Timbers fans are expected to attend the game, and while coaches Sigi Schmid and John Spencer will do what they can to keep their players focused, the din is expected to be deafening.
“I didn’t know it would be to this degree but I always knew there was a good soccer culture,” says Sounders forward Nate Jaqua, an Oregon native who played college soccer at the University of Portland. “I was always pushing for it when I first came into the league, that the Northwest would be good for MLS. It’s proven to be that way and I’m looking forward to that rivalry with Portland.
“It’ll be fun. The two times we’ve been there in the Open Cup it was pretty rowdy and the crowd will be a lot bigger when they come to our place.”
The teams are also tied for fifth place in the Western Conference with 13 points, but Seattle, having played two more games, is in greater need for a win.
LONGEST ROAD. Vancouver crossed the continent to play at New England after tying San Jose, 1-1, at Empire Field in a confused display. Yes, this is an expansion team, but even a first-year club should be able to clear its own half of the field efficiently, which it couldn’t do on Wednesday.
The ‘Caps (1-4-5), failed to clear the ball several times prior to Chris Wondolowski’s goal. The first attack stemmed from a strong midfield tackle by San Jose defender Ike Opara, but on two subsequent occasions they simply gave the ball away and eventually were punished when the Quakes scooped up the rebound of a Jay Nolly save and centered a low ball Wondolowski banged home from point-blank range.
Veteran defender Jay DeMerit played the last 15 minutes against the Quakes after sitting out most of the season with a groin injury. His exuberance and leadership can help Vancouver in the back, where mixups and concentration lapses have contributed to the 15 goals they’ve conceded.
WESTERN SHIFT. FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake resume their renovations without injured catalysts David Ferreira and Javier Morales.
FCD beat Toronto FC, 1-0, with a Daniel Hernandez penalty kick Wednesday after teenager Fabian Castillo revealed prior to kickoff that Coach Schellas Hyndman intended to utilize a 4-4-2 in the absence of Ferreira. Andrew Jacobson and Eric Avila played higher in the midfield to mixed results, and the wide play wasn’t particularly incisive. Hyndman is pondering his next move for the Saturday visit of Philadelphia, which flew west after tying the Galaxy, 1-1, at PPL Park.
RSL also won by a 1-0 score but didn’t get a goal until the 87th minute against nine men in the wake of a crunching, first-half tackle by Marcos Mondaini of Chivas USA that fractured Morales’ ankle in two places.
For a home game against Houston Saturday, Coach Jason Kreis has Jamaican playmaker Andy Williams as a likely replacement; at 33, he’s not as mobile as Morales, and he will be closely monitored by countrymate Lovel Palmer. Kreis also must contend with Brad Davis and Geoff Cameron in the middle, where the Dynamo have run hot and cold so far in 2011.