MLS Soccer

Sounders kick off rivalry week in Vancouver

The Seattle Sounders say they love playing in their Northwest rivalry matches, and that’s a good thing because they’re about to play three in a row.

The Sounders will visit the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday night, then meet the Portland Timbers in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday in Tukwila before facing the Timbers again July 13, this time in MLS play at CenturyLink Field.

“It’s going to be physical and intense and psychologically very demanding,” coach Sigi Schmid said of facing derby after derby after derby. “Those are going to be three tough games in eight days. ... We’re going to try to keep doing what we’re doing, which is battling for each other and playing well. We hope the rub of the green stays with us at times, and we’ll be OK.”

The Sounders will arrive at BC Place with a 13-point lead over the Whitecaps in league play, but two points behind them in Cascadia Cup competition. The teams played to a 2-2 draw in their previous meeting in May. Seattle also tied its other Cascadia match, 4-4 in April at Portland.

“We’ve been scoring the goals, we just haven’t been able to stop the goals either,” Chad Barrett said of the Cascadia round robin so far. “We have a lot of away games in this Cascadia Cup, so that makes it kind of difficult.”

Seattle leads Major League Soccer with 33 goals scored. The Whitecaps have scored 25, but none over their past two matches.

“They’re going to be a team that’s motivated because I’m sure they haven’t been happy with the last two games they’ve played,” Schmid said. “But it’s the same team. (Pedro) Morales is a very important part of their team playmaking from midfield. And you’ve got that pace up front, and they try to expose you with that pace.”

Sounders goals co-leader Obafemi Martins will return after missing the win at D.C. United last week while serving a red-card suspension.

“It always helps to have Oba back,” Schmid said. “He puts a lot of pressure on the opponent. His speed is something that stretches the opponent’s defense, which is something that we didn’t get to do too well when we played against D.C. So he always helps us.”

However, the Sounders will have key absences on all parts of the pitch. Starting midfielders Osvaldo Alonso and Gonzalo Pineda are out because of yellow-card accumulation. While forward Clint Dempsey and right back DeAndre Yedlin aren’t expected to play so soon after completion of U.S. national team duty at the World Cup.

However, Schmid said the national team players certainly will be back by the Portland match next weekend. And with three games over eight days, the Sounders know they once again will have to make use of their depth as well as the added adrenaline that pumps against heated rivals.

“We’re definitely going to have to show all the character that we’ve shown,” said midfielder Lamar Neagle of Federal Way. “It’s hard to express how crazy those games are. If you’re a kid growing up and you want to play in the MLS, these are the games that you want to play in — the Cascadia rivalry games. They live up to the expectations for sure.”

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