By DAN KARELL
Dark green clouds of smoke billowing from the Timbers Army section of Providence Park will greet fans across the country tuning in to the first Cascadia Cup match of the season.
The struggling Portland Timbers are hoping to put their early-season problems behind them when they face their arch-rival Seattle Sounders. Gaston Fernandez and Max Urruti have struggled to combine with the Timbers midfield this season but they could have a chance this Saturday with Djimi Traore missing for the Sounders. Clint Dempsey returns to the Sounders lineup for the first time since being hit with a two-match suspension.
A win for either side could alleviate and worries from fans for the time being while a loss will surely intensify the negative outlook on the season.
Elsewhere in MLS this weekend, a heating up Sporting Kansas City host a consistent Real Salt Lake in a rematch of the MLS Cup final, the Columbus Crew hope to continue their unbeaten run when they face Toronto FC in a Trillium Cup battle, and the Houston Dynamo host league-leading FC Dallas in the first Texas Derby of the season.
The weekend finishes with a SuperClasico bout between Chivas USA and the LA Galaxy at the StubHub Center on Sunday afternoon.
Here is a rundown of the Week 5 slate:
PORTLAND TIMBERS vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (Saturday, 3pm, NBC Sports Network)
Two teams that are short of form face off in a game that won’t be short of energy or passion.
The Portland Timbers host the Seattle Sounders in the first Cascadia Cup match of the season, with both teams desperate for a win. The Sounders are coming off a heart-breaking defeat in stoppage time to the Columbus Crew and will be without starting defender Djimi Traore due to his red card suspension. Clint Dempsey however will return to the starting lineup after completing his two-match ban.
The Timbers will be missing Donovan Ricketts for the second consecutive match as well but saw their appeal against Michael Harrington’s red card accepted, rescinding the card and the suspension that comes with it.
MONTREAL IMPACT vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS (Saturday, 4pm, MLS Live)
Unlike last season, the Impact have been slow coming out of the gate and have just one point from their first three games. The team received a huge boost however on Friday morning with the acquisition of Jack McInerney, giving Marco Di Vaio a more natural forward to play alongside.
The Red Bulls have also started out the season slow, but that’s nothing new for them. As soon as head coach Mike Petke can settle on a starting lineup, one featuring Peguy Luyindula in a midfield role, the team will return to winning ways. Losing Tim Cahill though for two to three weeks is a massive blow to the team.
CHICAGO FIRE vs. PHILADELPHIA UNION (Saturday, 5pm, MLS Live)
For the third time this season, the Union conceded an equalizing goal after and dropped points, despite good performances from the team’s improved midfield. Maurice Edu has excelled in his return to MLS but the Union have had to make due without Austin Berry in central defense.
Berry’s former team, the Fire, have played the plucky underdogs this season and showed plenty of fight in their 2-2 draw against D.C. United. What they lack in talent they make up for in desire to win the ball. As Mike Magee continues to gain fitness, the team’s fortunes could turn.
COLUMBUS CREW vs. TORONTO FC (Saturday, 6pm, MLS Live)
Outside of FC Dallas, the Crew are arguably the hottest team in the league. Coming off a miraculous 2-1 victory at Seattle, Gregg Berhalter and his squad are determined to play their attacking attractive blend of soccer, even if it causes migraines on defense.
TFC will have to be wary of the Crew attack in Columbus and they’ll be without star forward Jermain Defoe due to injury and captain Steven Caldwell due to suspension. Both Michael Bradley and Michael Parkhurst played 90 minutes for the USMNT and will likely be asked to go 90 minutes again just three days later.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (Saturday, 6:30pm, MLS Live)
Nigel Reo-Coker remains sidelined after his off-the-field concussion he suffered a week ago but the team didn’t miss him last week against the Houston Dynamo. Darren Mattocks has been a dynamic forward this season and Pedro Morales has been a huge lift to the team.
Pablo Mastroeni’s Rapids team have continued to exceed expectations this season but they’ll face a tough challenge to defend the impressive strike force of the Whitecaps. Jose Mari returns from his suspension but the Rapids will be without defender Marvell Wynne due to his red card picked up last week.
D.C. UNITED vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (Saturday, 7pm, MLS Live)
Ben Olsen’s side scored their first two goals of the season but failed to pick up the win, continuing to stay in the cellar of the Eastern Conference. The offseason upgrades are still developing chemistry together but Eddie Johnson looked more promising.
The Revolution have also only scored two goals this season despite their rich attacking talent. Kelyn Rowe has been ruled out for the match, likely moving Daigo Kobayashi into the lineup alongside Lee Nguyen in central midfield. Former U.S. forward Charlie Davies made his season debut last week and could even potentially start alongside Teal Bunbury if Jay Heaps switches to a 4-4-2.
HOUSTON DYNAMO vs. FC DALLAS (Saturday, 8pm, MLS Live)
The battle for El Capitan resumes on Saturday in a game between two of the league’s best teams. Mauro Diaz has been superb in his first full MLS season, leading Oscar Pareja’s side to an undefeated 3-0-1 record.
The Dynamo are coming off a close defeat to the Whitecaps on the road but should play better back in the friendly confines of BBVA Compass Stadium. Oscar Boniek Garcia was limited in Vancouver but a 100 percent Boniek Garcia will help the Dynamo boss the midfield once more. Ricardo Clark will need to be on his game to keep an eye on Diaz.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY vs. REAL SALT LAKE (Saturday, 8:30pm, MLS Live)
A rematch between last year’s MLS Cup finalists couldn’t have come at a better time for RSL. The club are on a roll after thrashing Toronto FC last weekend, 3-0, and Kyle Beckerman and Alvaro Saborio look as in form as they’ve ever been.
Sporting KC won their second in a row last weekend as Dom Dwyer made a statement of intent with his blast in stoppage time. The two clubs played a very physical game in last year’s MLS Cup final and one can expect a similar match this week, though with plenty of quality mixed in.
CHIVAS USA vs. LA GALAXY (Sunday, 3pm, UniMas)
Wilmer Cabrera will attempt to achieve the improbable when Chivas USA host the first SuperClasico of the season. Erick Torres scored his fourth goal of the season in last week’s draw with the Red Bulls and he’s always a danger, but the Chivas USA defense is a serious liability against the likes of Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan.
The Galaxy meanwhile are returning to action from their second off-week of the season, with the club looking for Robbie Keane and Rob Friend to grow their chemistry and find a way to score. The Galaxy have only scored once in two MLS games this year.