Wavy Road: Vancouver Whitecaps ready for latest ‘obstacle’ in long line of them in rematch with Timbers(Preview #22)

The Vancouver Whitecaps take on the Portland Timbers on Sunday. In this, we look ahead to that one, previewing what promises to be a very intense match between two longtime rivals. 

After enduring what’s has felt like both a marathon and a sprint, the finish line is near.  

21 games down, the Vancouver Whitecaps only have 2 more matches left to go, with their next clash coming up against the Portland Timbers on Sunday. 

Having gone through the mixer as a team these past 2 months, the ‘Caps are looking to make the most of these last 2 games, especially considering how close they are to a final playoff spot. 

While they just got a big gut-punch this week, as it was announced that the Western Conference playoff race would be decided by points per game, instead of total points, due to the Colorado Rapids COVID-19 outbreak, they still remain very much alive in the race. 

Before the news was announced, the ‘Caps, who would have currently been in 8 under total points, had total control of their destiny. 

Now, they’ve got to pick up as many points as possible and hope for some favourable outcomes, giving them yet another obstacle to overcome in a year full of them. 

“I mean, we faced a lot of obstacles, we’ve been through it as a group,” Veteran ‘Caps striker, Tosaint Ricketts, said on Friday. “So this is just another hurdle you have to jump over, and as a group, it’s only made us more hungry. It’s only made us more determined, and we’re ready, we want to come out of this on top, and we want to say that, with all of the adversity and all of the obstacles we faced, we still achieved the goal of making the playoffs in. It’s like you said, it’s drawn are group closer together, (our) mentality is good, motivation is high, we’re ready to go.”

And as he said, this will be just yet another obstacle for the ‘Caps to jump over. 

From the difficult MLS is Back tournament they had to endure due to a lengthy absence list, to having to play home games away from home in Portland due to the lack of ability to play games in Canada, the ‘Caps have been through the wringer this year and then some. 

So now, knowing that all they have to do is win and then see what happens, that’s what they’ll try to do, as they look to at least go out swinging if they are indeed to go out because of this change. 

“I mean it’s the same things like I said before, there’s been obstacles, plenty of obstacles we had to deal with throughout this year,” Ricketts said. “But it’s really shaped our character, and it’s really shaped our mentality. We’re going into Sunday, no excuses, we have the time to rest, we know the situation (in terms of) points per game, and we know what we need, so we feel still in our hands and we’re going to make sure we do our part.”

And make no mistake, the ‘Caps are really going to have to swing in their next game, a clash with the Portland Timbers, who sit one point off of first in the Western Conference in third place. 

Fresh off of a midweek trouncing of the LA Galaxy, the Timbers come into this one firing on all cylinders, having only lost once in their last 10 games, picking up 6 wins over that span. 

Compared to a ‘Caps team whose form line has looked more like a heart monitor than it has a trend line, the Timbers have found some consistency as of late, something this Vancouver team is looking to muster up as much as they can in these last 2 games. 

So while the challenge will be stiff for Vancouver, they’ll just look to do what they can to upset the Timbers, as they understand how important any sort of points would be for the playoff race. 

Knowing that they very well should’ve beat the Timbers in their only other game this year, a 1-0 loss in which Vancouver conceded an early goal and looked woeful in front of the Timbers cage, they’ll want to show that they can be full value for their money against the established side on Sunday. 

“No, it’s a team that has a very clear identity,” head coach Marc Dos Santos said on Friday. “It was already a little bit there even before Gio (Savarese), I think it’s a group of players that the core, the important players have been together and are key to the club. And then with Gio, they continue to build on a very strong identity and a way to play to win. I think that happened on Wednesday, they were very clinical like you said in their opportunities. It’s not like they created many more opportunities than they did in other games, it’s that they were much more aware in their finishing, it was phenomenal.”

“Look at the example of how (Eryk) Williamson beats (Daniel) Steres, I think the 1v1 before finishing (his goal), or the shot from (Andy) Polo and that goal, you know they finished very well their actions. It’s a team that knows exactly what they want to do. It’s a team that not long ago was in an MLS Cup Cup final, not long ago won the tournament in Orlando, so we’re very aware of what they’re about, where we’re also about we could compete with them and win.”

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Lucas Cavallini

Cavallini goes for a header against the Timbers last time out (Craig Mitchelldyer/Vancouver Whitecaps)

In the big games, the big players tend to show up, so what better time for Lucas Cavallini to snap a 3-game goalless run than in this one.

Last time out, the ‘Caps had their chances, they just needed a calm head in front of goal, so if they can do the same this time out, it’ll be hoped that ‘El Tanque’ can deliver the final touch needed to make sure the ball hits the back of the net. 

While Cavallini only has scored 5 times this year, he’s got 3 game-winners, so if he does show up, it could go a long way for a ‘Caps team whose offensive form can sometimes be all over the map. 

Storylines:

PPG Headache: As mentioned earlier, any sort of result, be it positive or negative, will get the calculators out and churning after this matchday. 

Unfortunately for the ‘Caps, due to the Rapids outbreak situation, all of the power is in the hands of the Colorado-based side, who just need a few positive results to claw their way into the dance. 

But on the other hand, the Rapids have struggled in their 2 games since returning to action, so it’s not a guarantee that they easily win their last couple of games. 

That makes this game huge for the ‘Caps, as any sort of result could put pressure on the Rapids, putting them in a precarious situation heading into the last match week.

Defensive woes: For the most part, the ‘Caps have defended well as of late, but despite that, they haven’t kept a clean sheet in 16 games, as they’ve just struggled to avoid the sort of individual errors that can tank defensive performances. 

While it will be very hard to keep the Timbers off the scoresheet, especially after seeing the 5-goal drubbing they laid on the Galaxy in midweek, the ‘Caps could send a huge message with a strong defensive performance. 

If they’re to dream of making any sort of noise in the playoffs, anyway, being strong defensively will have to become their bread and butter, so no better time to start that than now. 

Home-Away-From-Home: And while this is technically a home game for the Timbers, they’ll be facing one of their stiffest away tests in a while, as the ‘Caps have done well to mostly make Providence Park a fortress for themselves in this US stint. 

Yes, the Timbers have the advantage, and yes, the ‘Caps are very much the away team here, but something has to be said about familiarity in tough confines, something that this Vancouver team currently has in their back pocket.  

With no fans in the building, this makes it more of a neutral-site game than the Timbers would’ve ever hoped, giving the ‘Caps an edge, at least compared to what a usual away game against the Timbers would’ve served up.

Stats Splurge: 

Some good news for the ‘Caps in this one, because after getting battered by the Expected Goals (xG) darlings, the Seattle Sounders, in midweek, they play a team that is a lot less analytically dominant in Portland. 

While the Sounders were first in both xG for per game and xG against, the Timbers are 11th in xG per game with 1.44, and are second-last in xG against with 1.76. 

The only team worse than the Timbers are the ‘Caps, however, so that does suggest that a wide-open game may be on the cards, even though Vancouver is also 3rd-last in xG per game with 1.03. 

But unlike the Seattle game, the ‘Caps can dream of actually seeing a bit of the ball and generating chances, which is something they’ve struggled to do consistently this year. When they get the ball more, they also tend to shoot more, as well, generating more xG for themselves.  

So even though 11 points separate these two teams in the standings, this matchup could be a lot closer than we think, making for a good contest on Sunday. 

Projected XIs: 

Vancouver Whitecaps: 

Regular Season Record: 8W-13L-0D (24 PTS)

Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos

Portland Timbers: 

Regular Season Record: 10W-5L-5D (35 PTS)

Head Coach: Gio Savarese

2020 Matchup:

Portland Timbers 1-0 Vancouver Whitecaps

Looking Forward: 

It’ll be very interesting to keep an eye on this one on Sunday, as any sort of game that features at least one team between 7th and 12th place in the West promises to be must-watch TV this weekend. 

As the midweek showed, the fight for those last few playoff spots is making for some desperate performances, giving fans entertaining matches to close out the season.

So for the ‘Caps, they’ll want to put up a desperate performance of their own, giving their fans something positive to latch onto heading into the last week of the season. 

This is crunch time, and that’s where heroes and dreams are created, so no better time for the ‘Caps to make some magic than the present, especially when you consider that they have a chance to do so in front of one of their fiercest rivals.

In a season full of ups and downs, this is a good chance for them to finish on an up, giving them some momentum heading into whatever awaits them on the other side of these 2 games. 

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Portland Timbers, Sunday, November 1st, 2020, 19:00 PST (Providence Park, Portland)

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