2019 Match Preview #26: Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs Portland Timbers: Expansion cousins renew hostilities

While Portland and Vancouver have seemed to fly in opposite directions since their expansion, with the Timbers having one MLS Cup triumph and 2 finals appearances total compared to Vancouver’s none, the teams always combine for entertaining affairs, with this one expected to live up to the shine that many Cascadia Derby days in the past has provided. 

The Vancouver Whitecaps make the trek down to Portland on Saturday, where they will face the Portland Timbers, rekindling once again what has been a fierce rivalry over the years. With Portland reeling after back-to-back losses in Minnesota, with one denying them 3 points in MLS play and the other eliminating them from the US Open Cup in the semi-final stage, they will be hungry for a win at home against the Caps, who are slowly digging themselves out of a rut that had seen them winless since May. 

With a win in their back pocket, albeit against a Cincinnati team that is one of the few that are somehow worse than them, the Caps know that they’ll have to bring their A-game to take down the Timbers, who have had an otherwise sparkling run of form as of late, with 4 wins and 2 ties in their last 6 MLS contests before the Minny outing. 

Vancouver Whitecaps:

Injuries: Jhesser Khemiri (Knee), Hwang In Beom (Ankle, questionable) 

Record: 5W-11L-9D (24 Points)

Manager: Marc Dos Santos

A relatively clean slate for the Caps and injuries, with Jhesser Khemiri having finally started training with the ball, with the first start for him expected to come before the end of the month. Hwang In Beom is a question mark heading into Saturday, as he left training early Wednesday with what appeared to be an ankle injury, but he appeared to have participated in training without a hitch on Thursday. Lass Bangoura and Doneil Henry also returned to training this week, after they were both hit with injuries in the last couple of weeks. 

It remains tough to project the lineup for Saturday, with the departures of Felipe and Lucas Venuto making it hard to see who will fill their spots in attack and in the middle. At the back, things will remain unsettled, with Max Crepeau, Ali Adnan, Erik Godoy and Jake Nerwinski retaining their spots, while Doneil Henry will slide into the other centre back slot that was occupied by Derek Cornelius on Saturday. In the middle, Hwang remains in if fit, with Russell Teibert remaining in alongside him. With Felipe gone, you’d have to think that Jon Erice slides back in after spending a couple of weeks in Marc Dos Santos’s doghouse, but if not, a start for Michael Baldisimo or David Norman Jr may be in order. Up front, Theo Bair figures to start out wide, filling a spot he occupied so well against Cincinnati, while Fredy Montero stays up top after putting in a decent enough shift himself. With Joaquin Ardaiz putting up an anonymous performance alongside them, PC or Lass Bangoura figure to slide in, filling in the other wing spot with the various attributes that they can provide. 

The Caps didn’t make much in terms of player transactions during the transfer window, only bringing in winger Michaell Chirinos, who will likely make his debut next week, and an unnamed free-agent, who will be announced shortly. While that did little to appease the discontent of fans hungry for new blood in the squad, they appeared to make some marginal upgrades, with some new pieces expected to fully complete the squad in the winter. Until then, matches continue to get played, so we’ll get a chance to see who deserves to keep a spot next season, with each game presenting a new audition for someone to shine. 

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Theo Bair

Will Bair find his first goal in MLS on Saturday? (Keveren Guillou)

Bair has seemingly emerged from the shadows this season, going from not training with the first team earlier in the year, to playing week in and week out for this squad. His hard work has paid off, and he has added a new element to the Caps attack, with his size and work rate giving something the other forwards failed to provide. While it would be nice if he could find his first professional goal soon, he has been a feel-good story in a season mostly devoid of them. 

Storylines:

Cascadia Cup: The race for the coveted cup created between the three Cascadia team’s supporters group remains tight, with Vancouver and Seattle leading the way with 4 points each, and Portland carrying up the rear with 3 points, but with a game in hand on their two rivals. With a history dating back decades, the addition of the Cup in 2004 seemed to add even more to matches that never fail to disappoint. Portland and Seattle combined for an intense match last month, with all sorts of drama, so fans will naturally expect something similar when these teams come out on Saturday. 

A win…what’s next? The Caps picked up their first win since late May in Cincy, putting an end to what had been a pretty futile run for the club. With only 5 wins all season, the biggest question remains how they bounce back from this one, as they were unable to follow up on previous victories. While it will be tough to bring all 3 points back from Portland, a positive performance will do a lot to help erase some doubts about Dos Santos’s outfit. 

Return leg: The Caps did pick up one of their lone wins of the season against Portland, as they beat the Timbers 1-0 at BC Place back in early May, with a Fredy Montero goal sealing 3 points for the Caps. Will the Caps complete the sweep? Be pretty funny if they did, after enduring what has been a pretty forgetting campaign. 

Portland Timbers:

Record: 9W-9L-4D (31 Points)

Manager: Gio Savarese

Despite their late run of form, Portland remains outside the playoff picture, as a poor early-season start put them behind the race from the get-go. But considering that they started the first 2 months away from home, their record can only be seen as a positive from their point of view, and it can only get better with a comfortable amount of home matches still awaiting them. 

They have a good assembly of players, one that was boosted by the early-season arrival of Brian Fernandez, who came out of the gates flying with goals in his first 5 games. While he has only scored twice in the 6 games since, he still presents a dangerous threat for the Caps defenders to worry about. But it’s not just Fernandez, with the ever-dangerous Diego Valeri still remaining the straw that stirs the Timbers drink. After struggling with injury for much of the campaign, he is back and as good as ever, and you know he’ll want to give the Caps something to remember. Besides them, there is still Sebastian Blanco and Jeremy Ebobisse, who are both dangerous from attacking positions. Defensively, there is Larys Mabiala at centre back, who is a good defender, and he also benefits the cover that star defensive midfielders Christian Paredes and Diego Chara give him. 

With a passionate set of players, they will come out strong, attempting to control the play both tactically and emotionally. In a tough environment like Providence Park, a teams confidence can quickly spiral if the start overwhelms them, as seen when the LA Galaxy lost 4-0 a couple of weeks ago. With a Caps team that has looked fragile for a large part of the season, Portland will sense blood in the water. 

Looking Forward:

Things kick off Saturday, with a late 8 PM PST start. With droves of Caps fans expected to make the trek down, the game will have no shortage of emotion, making it a must-watch affair. Will the Caps have a repeat of their shocking upset they pulled off last year on this trip, where they snatched an unlikely 2-1 win amidst a dry spell? Find out Saturday. 

Vancouver Whitecaps vs Portland Timbers, Saturday, August 10th, 2019, 20:00 PST (Providence Park, Portland)