Sprinting to the End: Vancouver Whitecaps ready to begin biggest 5-game stretch of their 2021 season with crucial away game vs Portland Timbers

The Vancouver Whitecaps are getting set to take on their rivals, the Portland Timbers, in a huge match for both teams’ playoff hopes on Wednesday. Here’s our preview ahead of that key Cascadia Cup clash. 

The final push is now upon us.  

With just 5 games remaining in their 2021 MLS regular season, the Vancouver Whitecaps are looking to make the most of what’s left for them here in this campaign, as they continue their quest to try and make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

As they get set to take on their longtime rivals, the Portland Timbers, in Portland on Wednesday, the ‘Caps currently find themselves sitting just 1 point behind the 7th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, meaning that a win in this game could go a long way for Vanni Sartini’s side. 

Having picked up points in 17 of their last 20 games, they’ve been one of the hottest teams in MLS as of late, so there is no reason why they can’t believe in being able to grab a result here, allowing them to push towards their final goal.

Plus, with Portland sitting just 6 points ahead of the ‘Caps in 4th, the ‘Caps could halve that deficit with a victory here, allowing them to dream of maybe even hosting a playoff game, too.

But while that would be nice to dream about, it’s important that the ‘Caps don’t get too distracted by all of the possibilities, because at the very least, the ‘Caps need to make the playoffs, and to do that, they need to get a point out of this one, if not all 3, as a loss in Portland could prove to be fatal for their overall playoff hopes.

With all of their potential playoff rivals also in action on Wednesday, the ‘Caps cannot afford to lose any ground, because if not, they’ll also relinquish the bit of control that they currently have on their own destiny in their quest to make the postseason, which is something that they would be best served by keeping.

To do that, though, the ‘Caps must take on the Timbers with a pretty depleted squad, as the injury bug has hit them pretty hard here, right when it seemed like they were just starting to get healthy again.

Because of that, it looks like they’ll be without Erik Godoy, Ranko Veselinovic, Bruno Gaspar, Andy Rose and Tosaint Ricketts on Wednesday, who will join Caio Alexandre (foot) and Pedro Vite (visa) on the sidelines for this crucial game.

Despite that, though, the good news is that the ‘Caps appear unfazed by all of those absences. While it’ll suck for the ‘Caps to be so shorthanded, this isn’t the first time they’ve dealt with something like this recently, meaning that they’ll be ready to tackle the challenge.

And make no mistake, a tough challenge awaits them with this Portland team. Having won 4 of their last 5 games, the Timbers are also 1 of just 3 teams to have beaten the ‘Caps over these last 20 matches, making them a formidable foe for their guests.

Also, having last won in Portland in 2018, the ‘Caps will need to find a way to get a result in a building that hasn’t treated them all too kindly in recent years, only adding to the grandeur of this task.

But seeing their form as of late, this ‘Caps side feels like there isn’t anything that they can’t handle right now, and they’ll look to prove that on Wednesday, as they try and pick up a monumental victory in the overall context of their season.

It won’t be easy, but if there’s one thing that we’ve learned about this ‘Caps team recently, it’s that they fancy a challenge, and they’ll look to prove that once again in this one. 

Whitecaps captain, Russell Teibert, celebrates his goal vs Sporting Kansas City this weekend (Keveren Guillou)

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Marcus Godinho

Otherwise, though, one player that we believe can be central to those efforts will be one of the ‘Caps newest signings, Marcus Godinho, who could very well be in line to make his first start of his MLS career in this game. 

After 2 solid appearances off the bench in the ‘Caps last 2 games, it appears that he might be finally given a shot to prove that what he’s shown in his short time on the pitch can translate over into a bigger role, which is exciting to monitor. 

Still only 24 years old, Godinho is looking to prove that he’s worth keeping around next year, as he could still become a key long term piece for the ‘Caps, so look for him to come up big if given the opportunity, helping prove that he’s good enough to stick around the team in the long run. 

Storylines:

Elsewhere, here are some storylines that we’re keeping an eye on ahead of this one. 

Cascadia dreams on life support:

And to start, it’s worth noting that the ‘Caps aren’t only fighting for MLS supremacy in this game, but for local bragging rights, too, as this game will be the latest installment of the Cascadia Cup, the supporter run competition between Vancouver, Portland and Seattle, which takes place through matches with those 3 teams. 

As it stands, Portland and Seattle currently lead the standings of the 2021 edition, sitting each with 6 points, while Vancouver lags behind in last, with no points. 

So considering that the ‘Caps have just 2 games left against their Cascadian foes, if they’re to have any chance of winning a record 7th Cascadia Cup crown, reclaiming the throne as the most decorated team in this competition in the process, they need to win both of those games, starting with this Portland clash. 

Having split the first 2 games with Portland this year, winning 1-0 in the first game before losing 1-0 in the second one (unfortunately for the ‘Caps, just the loss counted in the Cascadia Cup race), the ‘Caps have shown to be able to hang with this Timbers side this year, and will look to prove that once again in this one. 

Defence wins titles:

Secondly, it’ll be interesting to see if the ‘Caps can keep up the good defensive form that they’ve shown as of late, as they’ve only allowed more than 1 goal once in their last 13 MLS games, which is pretty impressive. 

Thanks to that, they’ve been able to pick 25 out of a possible 39 points over that span, making them one of the top teams in MLS, which has all come off the back of the improvements that they’ve made defensively. 

So if they can keep that up in this game, finding a bit of offensive life in the meantime, you have to fancy their chances on Wednesday, helping them take a step towards making the playoffs. 

As the saying goes, goals win games, but defence wins championships, so while the ‘Caps will need some of the former to help win this game, based on how good they’ve been in the latter, that only will help their chances of being able to grab a victory in this one. 

Time to reverse road woes?

But at the same time, one thing that isn’t working in the ‘Caps favour heading into this game is their away form, as they head into this match having only one twice in their last 20 road games since last year. 

That doesn’t mean that they’ve necessarily been all that bad on the road, either, as they’ve picked up points in 8 of their last 9 away games, but they’ve struggled to pick up wins, something that they’ll need to find a way to change ahead of this one. 

There is no such thing as a bad road point in MLS, but a road win can always do big things for your aspirations, and the ‘Caps could get a first-hand view of how much so if they’re able to pick up a victory in this game, helping reverse their recent road woes. 

Projected XIs:

Vancouver Whitecaps:

Record: 10W-9L-10D (40 PTS)

Head Coach: Vanni Sartini

Portland Timbers:

Record: 14W-11L-4D (46 PTS)

Head Coach: Gio Savarese

2021 Matchups:

Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0 Portland Timbers

Vancouver Whitecaps 0-1 Portland Timbers

Looking Forward:

Seeing all of that, there’s a lot to look forward to in this game, for good reason, as it may very well be one of the games to watch in MLS on Wednesday night. 

In a clash between two longtime rivals, who have both regional pride and playoff implications on their minds, it’ll only add drama to a game that shouldn’t be short of it, making it one to watch. 

So for the ‘Caps, it’s important that they bring the right mindset into this game, one that allows them to not get too overwhelmed by all the emotions that could manifest themselves in this kind of game, allowing them to pick up a victory. 

It won’t be easy, but if they can keep up the mentality that they’ve had as of late, and just execute to the best of their abilities, you’d certainly fancy their chances, helping them continue their surprise push towards the postseason. 

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Portland Timbers, Wednesday, October 20th, 2021, 19:00 PDT, 22:00 EDT (Providence Park, Portland)

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