MLS Talking Points: Seattle hits Portland, southern rivals clash, and more

Joe Nicholson
The slumping Sounders will look to build on their midweek win in Toronto by beating the Timbers, while Atlanta takes on red-hot Orlando City

The year's first installment of the Cascadia Derby takes place on Sunday, providing a worthy headliner for a day stacked with three top-level MLS matches.

The Portland Timbers welcome the Seattle Sounders to Providence Park, and while the Sounders have gotten off to a disappointing start to the season, Wednesday's win in Toronto should give them some momentum heading into what should be another memorable derby.

Orlando City and Atlanta United are the only MLS teams in the south, and while they have met before, their showdown on Sunday carries a different vibe because the Lions are playing the best soccer in their club's history. Riding a six-match winning streak, Orlando City will look to close the gap atop the Eastern Conference on an Atlanta side coming off a tough midweek loss to Sporting Kansas City.

The best match of the weekend may not be either rivalry clash, but rather a matchup of teams located on opposite coasts. Los Angeles FC is unbeaten in its three matches at Banc of California Stadium, but keeping that unbeaten run going won't be easy against a New York City FC team that will be eager to erase the bad taste of last week's brutal Hudson River Derby beatdown against the New York Red Bulls.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's journey across America continues with another trip to Texas, as the LA Galaxy take on FC Dallas. The Galaxy have lost four of five matches, and their defense has been a mess. Straightening things out won't be easy against a Dallas side unbeaten at home this season.

The Columbus Crew are starting to hit their stride, going unbeaten in four heading into Saturday's Eastern Conference clash with the Chicago Fire. The Fire pulled off a late win on Wednesday, but will be at a disadvantage against a rested Crew side.

Here is a closer look at the key talking points for MLS Week 11:

Match of the Week: Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders

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There is a bit of a different feel to the latest installment of the Cascadia Derby. Caleb Porter won't be roaming the sidelines for Portland, with Giovanni Savarese facing the Sounders for the first time as Portland boss. The Sounders are also in different territory than they're used to in the West standings, just one spot out of last place, even after an impressive win in Toronto on Wednesday.

Those changes aside, there'll be plenty of familiarity in the derby. Diego Valeri and Osvaldo Alonso should see plenty of each other, as should Fanendo Adi and Chad Marshall. Clint Dempsey will once again be looking to find the net in a stadium he has christened with goals before.

Brian Schmetzer made the prudent decision to give Dempsey and Alonso rest by not having them travel to Toronto, an understandable decision to make with two midfielders in their mid-30s, and for players who must play well for Seattle to grab a result in Portland. Nicolas Lodeiro's absence with a broken toe will severely limit an already injury-hit attack, but newcomers Wolff Eikram and Handwalla Bwana have helped provide some much-needed mobility in the absence of Jordan Morris.

Will it be enough against a veteran defense like Portland's? It will need to be because it's tough to see Seattle's defense containing the Timbers in Portland, where they have scored three goals in both of their home matches this season. Sebastian Blanco has helped pick up the slack for the departure of Darlington Nagbe, and his excellent form has made it that much tougher for opposing defenses to over-emphasize containing Valeri. Seattle's tandem of Alonso and Cristian Roldan is one of the few pairings capable of dealing with such a dynamic duo. That job gets tougher without Lodeiro around to make Portland's midfielders work harder defensively.

Savarese has settled down the Timbers defense, re-integrating Liam Ridgwell after an early-season benching. Portland has posted consecutive shutouts and Ridgwell and Larrys Mabiala have formed a good partnership in central defense. Will Bruin is coming off a man-of-the-match performance in Toronto on Wednesday, but the short rest could limit his effectiveness. Having Dempsey back should help Seattle's atack create chances.

Match-ups to Watch

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Diego Valeri vs. Osvaldo Alonso. These long-time combatants renew acquaintances, though Roldan could be asked to provide some help on the reigning MLS MVP.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs. Matt Hedges. Zlatan is a handful for any defense, but Hedges is arguably the best center-back in the league and will have his chance to shine against a world star.

David Villa vs. Laurent Ciman. Whether it's Ciman or Zimmerman, LAFC has the center-backs to deal with Villa, but the World Cup winner gets up for high-profile matches like this.

Diego Fagundez vs. Michael Bradley. Fagundez has the mobility to find space in central midfield against the toughest markers and will keep the tenacious Bradley on his toes.

Fanendo Adi vs. Chad Marshall. With Roman Torres sidelined, there will be even more pressure on Marshall to win the physical battle with Adi.

Dom Dwyer vs. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. Dwyer's strength and well-timed runs will strike gold if Gonzalez Pirez can't avoid his penchant for mental lapses.

Miguel Almiron vs. Yoshi Yotun. The two South American midfielders have had some good battles before, but Yotun should have help with the tough task, either from Cristian Higuita or Uri Rosell.

Victor Vazquez vs. Wilfred Zahibio. Jozy Altidore's absence means more of the playmaking workload falls to Vazquez, who is sure to feel the pressure from Zahibio, one of the league's best defensive midfielders in the first quarter of the season.

Diego Chara vs. Clint Dempsey. The two have plenty of history with each other and their match-ups tend to produce fireworks in one way or another. 

Federico Higuain vs. Dax McCarty. The Fire have been calling on rookie Moe Adams to do more of the heavy lifting defensively in central midfield, but McCarty will still be key to containing Higuain.

Week 11 Predictions

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(*Best Bet)

WHITECAPS 2, Dynamo 0. Last week's loss to Minnesota United was a disappointing one for Vancouver, but a return home should lead to a win against a Dynamo side that struggles on the road.

MINNESOTA UNITED 3, Earthquakes 1. San Jose hasn't won since opening day, and snapping the slide won't be easy against a Loons side riding high off last week's win against Vancouver.

IMPACT 2, Union 1. How will the midweek matches affect these opponents? The younger Union could benefit, but they still have to stop Ignacio Piatti.

FC DALLAS 2, Galaxy 1. Ibrahimovic might need to consider playing center-back if the Galaxy defense can't get it together, a tall task against a tricky FC Dallas attack.

CREW 2, Fire 0. The early-season loss to Chicago was a tough one for Columbus to stomach, but revenge should come at home, with Gyasi Zardes breaking through.

Revolution 1, TORONTO FC 2. It's time for the reigning champions to snap out of their post-CCL funk, but also time for the Revs to rebound from a rough loss in Montreal.

Rapids 0, RED BULLS 2. Playing at altitude isn't easy on visiting teams, and could limit New York's ability to press, but Jesse Marsch's squad still has enough quality to get the win.

*REAL SALT LAKE 3, D.C. United 1. Nick Rimando will look to record his 200th career win against the team he won an MLS Cup for in 2004. The RSL attack should ensure the win happens.

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TIMBERS 3, Sounders 2. These Cascadia clashes always have fireworks, and we should expect even more, including some Dempsey magic and a Valeri star performance.

ORLANDO CITY 2, Atlanta United 1. The Lions have been riding high, having won six in a row, and Atlanta United's lack of an experienced goalkeeper for the clash of Southern rivals should help Orlando City make it seven.

Los Angeles FC 1, NYCFC 2. How will Patrick Vieira's squad respond to last week's embarrassing derby defeat? Look for a strong rebound on the way to handing LAFC its first home loss.