Portland, OR (SportsNetwork.com) - Seattle Sounders FC and the Portland Timbers will be jostling for position in the Western Conference table when the two sides meet at Jeld-Wen Field on Sunday.
There is perhaps no greater rivalry in MLS than Portland's everlasting battle with Seattle for supremacy in the Pacific Northwest, but it has been heightened this year with both sides looking destined to compete in the playoffs.
Portland missed out on the postseason in its first two years in MLS, but the third time looks to be the charm as first-year head coach Caleb Porter has guided the club through an impressive campaign.
The Timbers have lost just five regular season contests all year, leaving the club in third place in the West on 50 points.
But while that points total is one less than Seattle, the form table indicates that Portland is in the superior position.
The Timbers are unbeaten in their last five MLS contests, taking 11 points out of a possible 15 during that stretch. They also have not conceded a goal on their home turf since a 3-3 draw with Real Salt Lake on Aug. 31 and have not suffered a home defeat since a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Impact on March 3, the club's first match of the season.
Most recently, Portland split the points with Vancouver Whitecaps FC in a 2-2 draw at BC Place, a big result in Porter's eyes.
"First of all, it is a point," the Portland boss said after the match. "It's a big point overall. It's not what we came here for, but it doesn't allow them to make up any ground, so that's huge.
"Obviously, we want to keep moving up, contend for top-three, contend for Supporters' Shield - we're still realistically capable of doing that, even though we got a point. More important than that, we don't allow (Vancouver) to get closer. For us to do that on the road, I think, is a positive. We'll leave here feeling good about a point."
While Portland has been quite formidable over the past month, Seattle has been dreadful. The Sounders enter Saturday's Cascadia Cup tilt having lost their last two league contests by a combined score of 9-2, both of which came against Western Conference opposition vying for playoff spots.
"We live and die together. We live and die as team, as a staff - everybody," Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid told the club's official website. "We've just got to find our form again. The issue is not who we play. The issue is us finding our form."
Seattle once sat atop the overall MLS table after going 8-1-3 from July 20 to Sept. 29, but the team's most recent defeats, paired with a strong run from Red Bull New York, has seen Mike Petke's side usurp the Sounders at the summit.
Things will not get easier for Schmid's side as it will be without Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson, who are away with the United States on national team duty.
Seattle can take a bit of confidence away from its previous two meetings with Portland at CenturyLink Field this season. The two sides played to a 1-1 draw on March 16 before the Sounders claimed a 1-0 victory on Aug. 25 behind a goal from Johnson at the hour mark.
But with Johnson absent and the Sounders on the road in poor form, picking up maximum points from Sunday's clash seems like a daunting task.