With Portland being long known as “Stumptown” for the stumps left behind during their biggest phases of urban development back in the 19th century, the Vancouver Whitecaps (5W-11L-9D) will look to leave the Portland Timbers (9W-9L-4D) in a similar state of ruin, as they try to chop down their high-flying Cascadian rivals in another edition of the Cascadia Cup.
The Caps come into this match very motivated, with the Cascadia Cup being something that each organization prides itself in competing for each season. While it’s not an official trophy, and it has zero standing on the playoff race, it’s become an important prize for all of the clubs involved to compete for each season, no matter how their MLS campaigns are going.
One player that understands the importance of the trophy is Andy Rose, the Caps midfielder who also played 4 seasons for the Seattle Sounders, giving him good insight on both sides of the Cascadia rivalry. With back-to-back strong performances against Minnesota and Cincinnati buoying the Caps spirits after a rough two months, he knows that keeping things going against Portland will do a lot for both the club and it’s fans, who are both hungry for success, with the Cup being one of the lone chances remaining to satisfy that thirst.
“It’s another huge game,” Rose said Tuesday. “The Cascadia Cup is something that is so important for us, the fans, the organization. On numerous levels it’s an important game for us, we want to keep building, 4 points in 6 games, it’s a good return from a tough spell”
Portland comes into this game reeling, with a pair of games in Minnesota costing them both 3 points in MLS and a spot in the US Open Cup Final, so they’ll be hungry to get back to winning ways in front of a passionate Timbers Army, with the Caps only providing logs to an already burning fire.
With a dangerous assembly of attacking weapons and a solid defensive foundation, Portland is the kind of team that can hurt you in a multitude of ways, and the Caps know they’ll have to be wary if they are to come out of Portland with all 3 points in hand.
“Portland’s a great team, with a lot of important pieces,” Whitecaps coach Marc Dos Santos said after training Thursday. “With (Brian) Fernandez, (Jeremy) Ebobisse, (Sebastian) Blanco and (Diego) Chara, they have very good pieces.”
“They come a little bit hurt with both the loss against Minnesota in MLS and the loss against Minnesota in the Open Cup, they come in front of their fans, it’s against Vancouver, tiredness doesn’t exist in moments like that, everyone has what I call a second wind, and the fact that it’s Vancouver v Portland, we are going to have our guys for sure ready for this one.”
Dos Santos has a strong relationship with his Portland counterpart Giovanni Savarese, as the two both share a strong bond from their days in the NASL, with Savarese heading the touchline for the New York Cosmos, while Dos Santos manned the opposite side with the San Francisco Deltas, allowing them to get close in what was a very tight-knit league before it disbanded at the end of 2017.
Because of that, Savarese knows the way Dos Santos operates, so he is wary of the threat that his Timbers will face at home against the Caps.
“First of all, big rivalry, another big match for us,” Savarese said ahead of the encounter. “It’s great we’re playing at home, but I’m sure it’ll be a Vancouver team that is well prepared, I’m sure Marc will have prepared them really well, they have had a lot of time (to train) this week (since) they didn’t play on Wednesday.”
“They have come from playing last weekend, so they have had time to figure out how to play against us, so they’re coming here rested and ready to play. We’re ready to play as well, we know what to expect, the guys are excited to play this match at home, crucial game, it’s also a rivalry, another (big) Cascadia game.”
The Caps have gotten by the last few matches thanks to bounceback performances all over the pitch. With the midfield showing good defensive intent, the forwards looking more lively, the backline looking tightened, things are slowly starting to look up for the club. While the Caps were unable to bring in the kind of big names or the positional upgrades their squad required, they did make some minor moves, making the team marginally better ahead of what is lining up to be a crucial transfer window.
With Felipe Martins and Lucas Venuto out, and Tosaint Ricketts and Michaell Chirinos in, the Caps have some new offensive blood to add to a stale frontline, so while Chirinos and Ricketts are not expected to push the needle much farther than a couple of notches, they bring both crucial hunger and experience, with both players coming in at different phases of their career.
But with their debuts expected to come next week, Dos Santos will need to rely on the guys he already has against Portland, as he will retain much of the same 18 from last weekend, bar Felipe. One key player from that squad will be Max Crepeau, who will have to be satisfied with a clean sheet and a victory in his last two outings, returning him to the early-season form that had him amongst the best in MLS. While he’s been a big piece of what has made the Caps click defensively all season, he was quick to deflect the praise to the rest of his defensive crew.
“We found our identity of sticking together defensively,” Crepeau said of his defensive crew’s adjustments the last two games. “Before we were a little bit too wide, and we didn’t close the inside gaps, we’re good at defending crosses, our defending on crossing has been really efficient this year, we need to keep doing this because we’ve been good at it this year, close the middle and make the cross”
If they are to keep their defensive prowess going, however, they will have to do it in front of one of the toughest crowds in MLS, with Providence Park being known for their incredible fan culture and loud noise. With the fuel of the Cascadia Cup propelling them on, they will be at their best on Saturday, doing their best to give the Timbers a boost as they chase three points.
But for Crepeau, he says bring it on.
“I’m looking forward to playing at Providence Park,” Crepeau said excitedly.” I’ve been watching (them) for years now and it looks unreal, so I’ll really enjoy it, I love it when they (opposing fans) scream at me, so I’ll be waiting for that”
So while it won’t be easy for him and his crew to get all 3 points, they welcome the challenge ahead of them. The beauty of MLS is that the last result nor the standings never matter in a one-off game, so while many would suggest Portland looks the favourites to take home the 3 points, the Caps are very much in it, and with the confidence of a May victory over the Timbers behind them, they will be up to repeating the favour, this time on the road.
To do that, they’ll have to stick to fundamentals. While it would have been hoped that each member of the Caps would have adapted to Dos Santos football by now, preaching his philosophies on the field like religion, playing liquid football with fluid possession combining with stout defending like honey on top of a warm bagel, they instead find themselves stranded after a rough patch, and while it’s possible they show glimpses of that style on Saturday, they will need to dominate the fundamentals to pick up 3 points.
So for youngster Theo Bair, it’s to embrace a simple philosophy that has worked for him to gain promotion to a first-team regular at only 19.
“Just be simple and direct,” Bair said Thursday. “If it’s about goals or getting the last pass, it’s whatever I can do to provide something”
If everyone can find themselves on that same page, the Caps will find themselves successful in their mission to chop down the Timbers, while leaving Timber Joey’s famous chainsaw quiet and the Timber Army quiet, with the tiny but passionate roar of the Caps away faithful filling the empty space of Providence Park with proud and triumphant noise that signifies the end of another successful Cascadia campaign.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs Portland Timbers, Saturday, August 10th, 2019, 20:00 PST (Providence Park, Portland)