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April 5, 2014 at 12:01 AM

Sounders FC vs. Portland Timbers, preview and prediction

Sounders FC (2-2-0) vs. Portland Timbers (0-2-2)
Saturday, April 5, 12:23 p.m., Providence Park, Portland, Ore.
National TV: NBC Sports Network (John Strong, Kyle Martino)
Local radio: KIRO 97.3 FM (Ross Fletcher, Kasey Keller)
Spanish radio: ESPN Deportes 1490 AM
Referee: Hilario Grajeda

KEY TIMBERS PLAYERS

M Diego Valeri — A lot of Portland’s creativity in midfield might not be available in this one. Darlingon Nagbe, in particular, is dealing with a hamstring injury and seems unlikely to go. Steve Zakuani and Kalif Alhassan are also questionable. Valeri, the 2013 MLS Newcomer of the Year and Best XI selection, is yet to factor into a scoring play this season and has gone 0 for 15 in shots this season. That needs to improve, obviously. Some might say he’s due.

F Gaston Fernandez — A lot of key Timbers are familiar names at this point, but here is a newcomer. And the 30-year-old Argentine definitely endeared himself with his hometown fans in the first two games, netting a last-gasp equalizer in Week 1 against Philadelphia and then coming back in Week 2 and netting another tying goal in the second half against Chicago. Portland will hope his scoring ways at home continue.

D Pa Modou Kah — The Gambian center back might have been lucky to avoid suspension from the MLS Disciplinary Committee, but his availability is key for the Timbers. Defense has been a key issue so far, with six goals allows in four games and no shutouts, and Kah might be the best of the group. Plus, his new partner in the back, Norberto Paparatto, hasn’t been super sharp to start the year.

KEY MATCHUPS

Clint Dempsey vs. Diego Chara — Certainly one big question coming into the game revolves around Dempsey’s availability after going a full 90 against Mexico, but I think he’ll play a significant role. The USMNT captain got to know Chara pretty well in a handful of meetings last year, of course, mainly in some physical tackles. Here is a foul count for the Timbers’ destroyer so far this year: 6, 4, 4, 5.

Maximiliano Urruti vs. Chad Marshall — Goals have been hard to come by for Portland, which is averaging less than a goal per game, among the worst in the league. Up top, one of many skilled Argentines in the roster has been shut out in his first nine attempts on goal (only one of target). Seattle’s new center-back, on the other hand, has hardly put a foot wrong this season and will have a massive advantage physically.

Slumping Timbers vs. their upper hand in the rivalry — Frankly, Portland has been one of the disappointments of the early season. The 0-2-2 start is the worst in franchise history. Now you add that emotions of a heated rivalry game and the hosts could come out flying. Remember, the Timbers not only prevailed in the biggest meeting against the Sounders (last year’s Western Conference semifinals), but they’ve also won three-straight games head to head.

PREDICTION

I think a lot of factors are playing against the Sounders, who have continued the 2013 trend of not being at full strength (Brad Evans is out, Djimi Traore is suspended and a few others are banged up).

While Portland is facing similar issues, I feel the hosts will be playing with a greater sense of urgency sitting near the bottom of the Western Conference. Also, Seattle is 0-3-1 in its last four trips to Providence Park/JELD-WEN Field.

None of the MLSsoccer.com editors see the Sounders getting three points (most picking a tie), and I’m not sure I see the visitors even getting one.

Portland 1, Sounders FC 0

POR — Will Johnson (Jack Jewsbury) 75′

*     *     *

How do you see this one playing out?

| More in Preview and prediction, Sounders FC

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