By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
PORTLAND — A couple of days of secrecy will come to an end today when a national television audience watches the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers in the first Cascadia Cup match of the new Major League Soccer season.
Both teams closed their practices in advance of the game, adding an element of suspense to the lineups that will be revealed before a sellout crowd at Providence Park.
It is known that the Timbers will be without goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, who is serving out his two-game disciplinary suspension. However, key Portland field players Darlington Nagbe (leg) and Steve Zakuani (hamstring) were listed as questionable all week. Seattle-area media were told that Zakuani was not available for interviews.
The availability of either or both could be important as this match unfolds, but Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said the uncertainly didn’t interfere with his team’s preparations.
“How we’re playing is our No. 1 concern,” Schmid said Friday. “So we need to know everything that we can about the opponents in order to prepare appropriately and properly. But a lot of that is for us as coaches sometimes. At the end of the day, the important thing is that we’re playing our game and that we’re concerned with how we’re doing.”
The Sounders also offer their own mysteries for Timbers coach Caleb Porter.
Central defender Djimi Traore is out on red-card suspension, but Schmid did not make clear whether he would be replaced by newcomer Jalil Anibaba or veteran Zach Scott.
Midfielders Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans trained only lightly this week, with Schmid indicating Alonso is expected to be ready while Evans likely needs more time.
Also uncertain are the roles for midfielder Clint Dempsey and right back DeAndre Yedlin. Both returned to training Friday after playing in the United States national team’s 2-2 draw with Mexico on Wednesday in Arizona.
“The whole group’s back together,” Schmid said. “That’s a good thing for us. And obviously their experience with the national team, anytime they bring those experiences back it helps us.”
Dempsey, 31, played the entire 90 minutes Wednesday, adding some question to the extent of his role this weekend. Schmid said Dempsey on Friday was “a little bit tired, but I think he’ll be fine for (today).”
Yedlin, 20, played only the final 19 minutes against Mexico and sounded all in for the Timbers.
“Oh yeah, definitely,” he said. “Even if I played 90 I’d be ready for 90. I wouldn’t miss this game for the world.”
Yedlin also sounded excited about the possibility of facing Zakuani, the top overall pick in the 2009 SuperDraft who played his first five seasons in Seattle.
“That would be great,” he said. “Zakuani is obviously a great player, and I would love that challenge. I got to do it here in practice, but never in an official game. I think that would be pretty fun. That would be a great challenge for me, and that would be great to play against him.”
Both teams have incentives beyond their rivalry.
The Sounders (2-2-0) are starting a three-game road trip after losing two of their first three home games.
Meanwhile, the winless Timbers (0-2-2) are off to the slowest start since joining MLS.
However, Schmid indicated it’s too early to read much into that.
“They’ve brought in some new pieces, so they’re looking for continuity within that,” he said. “… We’re going to look at how they’ve played and what we think we can take advantage of against their team right now. We know that they’ve struggled scoring goals a little bit. Hopefully they’ll continue to struggle scoring goals against us. But in this league you can never tell from game to game.”