Vancouver and their expansion cousins, Portland, renew their long rivalry for the first time in MLS as the Caps visit the Timbers at Jeld Wen Field on Saturday. While both teams sit on the bottom half of the Western Conference table, it is clear the Timbers are enjoying more success in the first year as they sit two points higher with six additional points. It is the Whitecaps second game of the Cascadia Cup while it will be Portland’s third game and both clubs have a single point so far.
The Whitecaps need a bounce back match from winger Shea Salinas in order to break down the Timbers defense. It’s been an up and down season for Salinas as when he can be either one of the best players on the pitch or can be completely invisible.
The leading goal scorer among strikers on Portland, Jorge Perlaza has outperformed the more hyped addition of Kenny Cooper. He plays as the withdrawn striker and is able to makes great runs at defenders, similar to Camilo.
There is a desparate need for Jay DeMerit to be 100% match fit and be able to last the whole game especially with Rochat still unavailable. When neither is on the pitch the backline is a shambles and misses the leadership the captain provides.
On the backline Eric Brunner is a young MLS veteran who has been a solid pickup from Columbus through the expansion draft. The central defender is very good in the air clearing balls out of his box and also dangerous in the opposition box, scoring two goals this year.
WHO’S ON FORM
Even when the Caps play poorly and lose by a large margin, Camilo is normally playing at a very high level. It’s very hard to recall when the Brazilian striker has had a poor game as his runs continue to draw fouls and he has become the best taker of free kicks on the team.
The best internal and in season addition so far in MLS, Jack Jewsbury is playing at an all-star level for the Timbers and it is hard to imagine where the team would be without him. He was discarded for allocation money by SKC and has become the club’s attacking catalyst and captain.
9th in Western Conference
Last Game: 4-0 Loss at D.C. United
7th in Eastern Conference
Last Game: 3-1 Loss at Sporting Kansas City
QUESTIONABLE: Alain Rochat (adductor), MF Michael Nanchoff (rib), MF Alex Morfaw (hamstring), GK Brian Sylvestre (knee)
OUT: DF Kevin Goldthwaite (knee), FW Eddie Johnson (concussion), FW Spencer Thompson (knee), GK Jake Gleeson (hamstring)
PROBABLE: FW Bright Dike (quad), MF Jack Jewsbury (hamstring), GK Troy Perkins (hip), DF Rodney Wallace (hamstring)
Coming off the lopsided loss to D.C. United, it would seem like the Whitecaps are coming into this match on a low and with little confidence. However, this team seems to rebound well from poor performances including a win against Chicago after they had lost to the Galaxy by the same 4-0 score. They definitely need to put the previous match behind them if they want any chance to come out of Oregon with a result.
With Mustapha Jarju having a full week of training after being away on international duty with Gambia, expect Vancouver’s second DP to team up their first Eric Hassli up front. The midfield will need both Camilo and Shea Salinas to bring their top game which will keep Portland’s attacking fullbacks honest. The central midfield will have Gershon Koffie team up with either Davide Chiumiento, for added offensive flair, or Peter Vagenas, for a defensive approach. There will be very little help coming for the backline as it will consist of the same four from last week’s loss with Jordan Harvey and Jonathan Leather out wide and Micheal Boxall and Jay DeMerit in the middle. After being directly responsible for two of the four goals, Jay Nolly will most likely give way to Joe Cannon as the starting goalkeeper.
The Whitecaps will need to attack from the flanks with both Camilo and Salinas using their speed and flair to run at defenders. If the two are successful, then it should force the Timbers to become spread across the pitch opening holes in the middle for Koffie, Hassli and Jarju to make plays. Another key to the attack is the ability of Jarju and Hassli to build some chemistry when attacking in the final third. The two have shown signs in previous games but the Gambian international is yet to find the back of the net for the Whitecaps.
In order to get a result the backline will have to drastically improve their performance from last week where they were exposed. The scoring from the Timbers comes from all over the pitch as they have had thirteen different players score compared to eight for the Whitecaps. Set pieces are a major key to the offense for the Timbers with their defenders being a key as they have, as a group, contributed eight goals. Koffie and Vagenas will need to contain Jewsbury who is the player who takes those free kicks and the main conduit for which the offense runs through. Cooper and Perlaza have been a decent pair up front, combining for nine goals this season, but more has been expected of the striking duo this season.
It sounds simple and like a broken record but the Whitecaps need to finish the chances they create in the final third and avoid making silly errors around their box. They obviously need to get more support in the goal department from players not named Hassli and Camilo as the duo have scored 17of the club's 25 goals. Of the remaining 8 goals, 5 of them are from players that are either injured (Rochat and Harris) or no longer with the team (Dunfield).
At this point of the season with the playoffs out of reach and the failure to win the Canadian Championship, the only opportunity the Whitecaps have for success this season on the pitch is winning the Cascadia Cup. A result in Portland for the Whitecaps would go a long way in getting the club closer to that goal and bragging rights in the Northwest. With the Timbers having to play a mid-week game in Kansas City, the Caps have a chance to upset their expansion cousins on the road.