New Home: Vancouver Whitecaps hoping to stay in the thick of ‘close’ Western Conference race versus Timbers at temporary home (Preview #14)

Mere days after a heavy loss to LAFC, the Vancouver Whitecaps look to bounce back with a win over their Cascadian Rivals, the Portland Timbers, in a unique ‘home’ game in Portland. Here is our preview ahead of that one, as the ‘Caps look to claw their way back into a tight Western Conference playoff race with a win. 

No better way to bounce back than with a win. 

While the Vancouver Whitecaps are far from guaranteed to win against the Portland Timbers on Sunday, they’ll be hoping to do a lot better than they did in their most recent game, a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of LAFC on Wednesday. 

After a game like that, it can be hard to bounce back, but luckily for the ‘Caps, the turnaround between these two games has been short, giving them a chance to try and get back into a good mindset after such a demoralizing result. 

They trained at a good level this week, as usual, and so far seem set on putting that result behind them, now all that is left is for them to prove that in the game on Sunday. 

“It was like usual,” Whitecaps head coach, Marc Dos Santos, said when asked about the team’s mood at training on Friday. “The guys are able to turn the page, and attack what’s next, and be ready for what’s next, there was a lot of coaching, I would say, during the day today, using it for a recovery session.”

“But (we spent time) going into a lot of things that we think were bad against LA, we have a video session during a lot of the players throughout the afternoon, and then we’ll do a video session at night, but it’s always hard when you come out of 2 wins in a row and then you have the game you had against LA, where it’s hard, but we’ve always bounced back, so hopefully we’ll be able to do it again.”

But while they’ll be feeling confident in bouncing back after that tough result, a unique match awaits them, as they take on the Portland Timbers in a ‘home’ game at Providence Park, as part of the Whitecaps temporary relocation to the US for phase 2 of the MLS regular season. 

They’ll face other opponents as the ‘home’ team at Providence Park, but for their first game as hosts to be against the actual tenants of the park is some sort of cruel irony, as no one knows how that will go. 

Luckily for Vancouver, they do have experience of being the home team at Providence Park, as they played a few games down in Portland in preseason back at the beginning of 2020, all part of a 4-team invitational tournament that featured the ‘Caps, the Timbers, the New England Revolution and Minnesota United. 

When you add in the fact that this game will be played without a crowd, nullifying the famous Timbers Army noise that can make playing at Providence Park so tough, it’ll benefit the ‘Caps, who had the chance to play in front of no crowd games in their two non-Portland matchups at that tournament. 

“Yeah, I think playing in preseason here is definitely going to help us,” ‘Caps right back, Jake Nerwinski said when asked about that preseason experience on Friday. “I thought our preseason games here we actually played very well, and going into the season, it kind of led us into a good spot. I think without fans, obviously, it’s going to help us more then it’s going to help Portland, because we know that energy, that atmosphere that the fans bring at that field is one of the best in MLS, for sure.”

And without a doubt, that will be very helpful for them, as this is a huge game for the Whitecaps, who find themselves only 6 points behind the Timbers ahead of Sunday, who sit tied for first with the Seattle Sounders, all part of a Western Conference playoff logjam where only 10 points separate first and last. 

If they can take advantage of being the ‘home’ team, allowing them to disrupt the Timbers rhythm, picking up 3 points could go a long way towards possibly playing in the playoffs this year, something that remains very much in the realm of possibility, despite the heavy loss in midweek. 

Knowing that, the ‘Caps are looking to make some noise on Sunday, allowing them to hop right back into the thick of the playoff race, as they were before the LAFC loss. 

“The standings, everybody is so close,” Dos Santos said. “You’re still talking about between us and the first place, it’s 6 points only, that’s 2 wins, so the standings are very close, so I think that the battle for the top 8 is going to be until the end, very close, and while we’re there, we’re 2 points away right now, we’re alive, that gives us levels of confidence and belief that we could get there.”

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Cristian Dajome

Dajome takes on Jukka Raitala in a game versus the Montreal Impact a few weeks back (Keveren Guillou)

Dajome has quietly put up some solid performances as of late, as he’s been a huge bright spot in attack for the Whitecaps, who could use some of his offence on Sunday. 

While his value certainly hasn’t been understated, as he leads the team in goals with 3, his defensive work rate has also been huge for the ‘Caps, so look for him to put in a big two-way performance in Vancouver’s quest to bounce back from that tough loss to LAFC. 

Storylines:

Avoid letting the LA loss own the narrative: While the LAFC loss is going to own the narrative right up until kick-off, and rightfully so, it’ll be up to Vancouver to make people forget about it once the game starts, so look for them to try and come out strong to try and counter that. 

In a league where teams typically have short memories from game-to-game, a strong start is exactly what the doctor is ordering for the ‘Caps in this one, so up to them to now deliver it. 

All about the defence: After looking good defensively in back-to-back wins against the Montreal Impact and Real Salt Lake ahead of the LA game, they took a big step back at the back on Wednesday, much to the dismay of fans. 

When the ‘Caps defend at their best, they can be a very stingy team, but consistency has been a big issue for them this year. 

Against this Portland attack, it won’t be easy to bounce back defensively, but if they do, they’ll have every chance at winning this game. 

Take advantage of ‘home’: Yes, Providence Park isn’t the Whitecaps true home, but they should still take advantage of what this situation can offer them. 

For example, they don’t have to travel ahead of this one, giving them more rest time, which considering how much travelling into LA on game day seemed to affect them on Wednesday, is definitely a good thing. 

It’s not the same as sleeping in your own bed, but having slept a few nights at the hotel that is also now ‘home’ for the next few weeks is better than zooming into a new market on game day, so look for the Whitecaps to look a bit fresher on Sunday in Portland than they did in LA. 

Stats Splurge:

The one big stat to watch out here is the defensive Expected Goals (xG) battle, as this game is a matchup of the two worst defensive teams in terms of the chances they concede. 

Despite their 2nd-worst defensive xG record, as they give up 1.90 xG a game, Portland has somehow avoided much defensive trouble, as their record shows, but they still have conceded the 4th most goals in the league. 

On the other side, the Whitecaps are the runaway leaders in xG allowed per game with 2.06, as they’ve struggled at keeping high-quality chances away from their goal, but at the same time, their numbers are inflated by a bunch of stinkers. 

Ultimately, this is a matchup of defensive inconsistency, which is represented by the ‘Caps, and a mix of run and gun offence and good goalkeeping, which is what the Timbers represent. 

Knowing that, it’ll be very interesting to see which style prevails on Sunday, but at the very least, it feels safe to expect a free-for-all offensively. 

Projected XIs:

Vancouver Whitecaps:

Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos

Regular Season Record: 5W-8L-0D (15 PTS)

Portland Timbers:

Head Coach: Giovanni Savarese

Regular Season Record: 6W-4L-3D (21 PTS)

2019 Matchups:

Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0 Portland Timbers

Portland Timbers 3-1 Vancouver Whitecaps

Looking Forward:

So all-in-all, expect a good matchup on Sunday. 

If last year’s matches were to be any indication, these teams match up well against each other, and with the added importance that the playoff race brings, along with the irony of the ‘Caps being the ‘home’ team in Portland’s Stadium, this should be a fun game. 

In a unique season, it’s another case of what 2020 has had to offer us, so if that’s to be any sort of omen, expect the unexpected on Sunday. 

As the Whitecaps look to bounce back from a demoralizing defeat, they’ll certainly look to jump on that and bring the chaos against the Timbers, making for a fun one. 

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Portland Timbers, Sunday, September 27th, 2020, 19:00 PST (Providence Park, Portland)

All Expected Goals stats via American Soccer Analysis

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