There is a new feeling to the Sounders-Timbers rivalry heading into Sunday’s 7 p.m. game at CenturyLink Field. This is the first time in the MLS era that Portland has been higher in the standings this deep into the season.
The Timbers are 9-3-11, tied for the highest points-per-game average in the league and No. 1 in the latest power rankings from ESPN.com and SI.com.
So what do the Sounders think about looking up at their fiercest rivals for the first time in this chapter of a series that dates to 1975? Here is a sample from after Tuesday’s practice:
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“I don’t think it changes how we feel about them. We still have a very intense rivalry with the group, whether they’re last or first. It’s still Portland. I think that kind of supersedes the standings. Obviously we’re cognizant of where we are and where they are, and that certainly gives perhaps a bit of added oomph to our training this week, but at the end of the day, you can’t over-coach, you can’t get so excited — ‘Oh my god, Oh my god, it’s Portland.’ You have to take it as a very important league match and make sure you prepare the team well.” — Brian Schmetzer, assistant coach
“I think it’s the same (feeling). I think each team every year tries to strengthen their roster. They became a stronger team over the last year and we’ve added a lot of new faces and we became a stronger team. But we don’t like each other. That is what makes this sport big and has caught the awareness of many more viewers in America.” — Eddie Johnson, forward
“Obviously that crosses our mind for sure and that makes it even more important. We keep talking about games in hand, games in hand, but we have to start getting results here pretty quick or else we’re going to start finding ourselves falling behind. Other results really haven’t gone our way when the East Coast has played the West Coast. It’s obviously a big game and … the first time we’ve been behind them in the standings at this point into the season and this far into the rivalry. For us, just another opportunity to hopefully climb the ladder.” — Brad Evans, midfielder
“Like I’ve said, things happen. Things change. Nothing stays permanent forever. So this time we’re looking up at them at this point in the season, but we know we still have games in hand and we know we still have to perform. We’re at home and we need to make the home game count for us.” — Sigi Schmid, head coach
“Of course it makes us even hungrier to beat those guys and move up in the standings, as well. Portland is always Portland. It doesn’t matter if we’re first and they’re last or the other way.” — Michael Gspurning, goalkeeper