Timbers Army 3

MLS Rivalry Week backstories: Seattle vs. Portland

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If we examine the back stories on how rivalries achieve their deliciously acrimonious state – real rivalries, that is, and not the manufactured ones fans tend to sniff out and disregard with extreme prejudice – they usually check the box on one or more of the elements you see in the box below.

Here we look at the Portland Timbers-Seattle Sounders rivalry, and which boxes get checked on this clash of Eastern Conference contenders:

The teams meet at 8 p.m. ET Saturday (NBC Sports Network) at CenturyLink Field.

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The backstory:

Anyone soul who has stood among the deafening shouts of the Timbers Army or the impassioned screams of the Emerald City Supporters would certainly recognize this one as the gold standard of MLS rivalries. This Pacific Northwest maelstrom of shaped-charged hostility has it all.

It starts with rich layers of history dating back to the North American Soccer League, a league before it’s time, certainly, and undone by the weight of its own grand designs. But it did create history, a good chunk coming from Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. Other rivals may not enjoy each other’s company, but none have such deep, deep roots as this one, dating back to the NASL salad days of the late 1970s.

So when Seattle came aboard as Major League Soccer as its 15th franchise in 2009, with Portland and Vancouver soon to follow as Nos. 17 and 18, all the tribal identities of the wonderful supporters groups were always destined to clash (not literally … we hope) in a way yet unseen in Major League Soccer.

Said commissioner Don Garber at the time: “Our sport is driven by rivalries. It’s part of what makes the sport so special in Europe and Latin America, and it’s what helps make the supporters so passionate about their teams. Now we’re going to have an opportunity to create that in the Pacific Northwest.”

If he only knew how great it would be.

The scenes are just so perfectly set, with teeming downtown grounds, the Timbers Army and the Emerald City Supporters in such fine color and voice, and waiting lines for tickets to matches that truly matter. All of them. But especially ones that count in the Cascadia Cup.

Memorable series moments from the series? Since it started in 1975, probably too many to count. Here’s a start. And there’s some great background here.

Personally, I’ll never forget the billboard. Erected in the shadow of Seattle’s rave green ground, Portland had a huge billboard erected prior to the 2011 season (the Timbers’ first in MLS) proclaiming Stumptown “Soccer City USA.” Good one, Merritt Paulson!

Saturday’s match:

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Seattle can be pardoned for an MLS season opening stinker (a loss at home to Montreal) thanks to its subsequent, successful passage through two legs of CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal play. Take that, Tigres!

Osvaldo Alonso (pictured) is still The Man, and the league’s top holding midfielder. (Still a “holding” midfielder, even though he’s playing a little higher up the field this year.)

Portland has been the Kim Kardashian of MLS sides. You know, pretty easy on the eyes but not much substance, not in wins at least. New manager Caleb Porter has the Timbers passing with style and playing defense higher up the field, but there’s been only a draw and a loss at home to show for it.

On the other hand, new playmaker Diego Valeri does look good, doesn’t he?

(MORE: Cascadia Cup leaves Seattle no time to dwell on history)

MLS on NBC makes its 2013 debut when Arlo White and Kyle Martino call New York Red Bulls against D.C. United at 12:30 p.m. ET. NBC Sports Network carries two contests after that (Sporting KC vs. Chicago Fire, then Seattle vs. Portland). In between, “The Breakaway” will show goals from foursome of matches NBC is not carrying.

ProSoccerTalk’s series of Rivalry Week back stories:

Pep Guardiola: “Maybe I’m not good enough”

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Pep Guardiola has admitted he “may not be good enough” for his players at Manchester City.

Ahead of City’s clash against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) Guardiola has been defended his squad after severe criticism from the media.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

City were hammered 4-0 at Everton last weekend, their worst league defeat since 2008 and Guardiola’s worst-ever league defeat as a manager.

With plenty pointing the finger of blame at goalkeeper Claudio Bravo and City’s defense, their manager put himself in the firing line.

“They are good players. I have respect for the guys, so why would I say the guys are not good? So I don’t understand the lack of respect for the professionals when they have been amazing players, and [people saying] they are not good enough for me. Maybe I am not good enough for them,” Guardiola said. “They are Manchester City players, top players. They have a lot of quality. They have shown that many times in the past and this season.”

Mind games.

Guardiola, 46, is no doubt facing the biggest challenge of his season as City look to at least seal a top four spot in this his debut season in England. The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager has already “said goodbye to the title” and if they lose against red-hot Tottenham at the Etihad Stadium then more questions will be asked of his tactics and if they can work in the Premier League.

So far the possession-based slow build up style has been hot and cold for City, with plenty of counter-attacking teams in the PL (Chelsea, Spurs, Everton, Leicester etc.) having a field day against a shaky defense.

Despite being 10 points off the pace, Guardiola is sticking by his philosophy. One thing really sticks out to me from his first few press conferences in England: “We will see if my style of play can work in the Premier League.”

So far, it’s not.

Watch Live: Liverpool vs. Swansea City (Lineups, Stream)

SWANSEA, WALES - MARCH 16:  Kyle Naughton of Swansea City is closed down by Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at Liberty Stadium on March 16, 2015 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Liverpool host Swansea City to Anfield on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Reds aiming to stretch their unbeaten run at home in the Premier League to 18 games.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Jurgen Klopp is a little concerned with the number of games his team have had to play over the past few weeks, but a victory against the struggling Swans would momentarily move his side just four points behind leaders Chelsea who play on Sunday.

As for Swansea, new manager Paul Clement knows a win would take his team out of the relegation zone and with new signings arriving that would be a massive boost. It would also be a massive ask for the Welsh side to get anything at Anfield but this may be a good time to play Liveprool after their midweek trip to Plymouth in the FA Cup and the EFL Cup semifinal second leg against Southampton coming up on Wednesday.

In team news Liverpool start with Philippe Coutinho once again, while Joel Matip is on the bench after the Reds finally settled the dispute with Cameroon. Swansea hand debuts to new signings Martin Olsson and Tom Carroll.

LINEUPS

Liverpool: Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner; Can, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Lallana, Coutinho, Firmino. Subs: Karius, Sturridge, Moreno, Lucas, Origi, Matip, Woodburn

Swansea City: Fabianski; Olsson, Mawson, Fernandez, Naughton; Cork, Carroll, Fer; Sigurdsson, Llorente, Routledge. Subs: Nordfeldt, Rangel, Amat, Fulton, Dyer, Borja, McBurnie

Viktoria Plzen set to sign midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz

Obafemi Martins, Oniel Fisher, Andreas Ivanschitz
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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PRAGUE (AP) Czech champion Viktoria Plzen is close to signing Austrian midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz.

Plzen says Ivanschitz agreed terms for a contract lasting 1 + seasons and will sign it when the team returns from a training camp in Spain. Ivanschitz has already joined the squad at the Oliva Nova resort, the club says.

Ivanschitz helped the Seattle Sounders win their first MLS Cup in December.

[ NEW HOMES: Fonte | Berahino ]

No financial details were given.

The 33-year-old Ivanschitz also played for Rapid Vienna and Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, Mainz in the Bundesliga, Levante in Spain and Panathinaikos in Athens.

Ivanschitz played 69 games for Austria in 2003-14, scoring 12 goals.

FIFA allows Matip to represent Liverpool during AFCON

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 29: Joel Matip of Liverpool heads to score his team's third goal during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Liverpool at Selhurst Park on October 29, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
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Joel Matip is going to get to play for Liverpool during AFCON after all.

The center back had turned down the chance to represent Cameroon at the Africa Cup of Nations, and Liverpool was forced to apply to FIFA for a waiver.

[ PL PREVIEW: Swansea vs. Liverpool ]

Matip suffered an ankle injury in December, adding to his desire to stay at Anfield. He declared himself internationally retired and was one of six Cameroon players who refused call-ups for AFCON.

He last played for the Reds on Dec. 11, and can be selected by Jurgen Klopp against Swansea City on Saturday.