“It’s an important game”: Vancouver Whitecaps looking to keep up positive momentum ahead of Cascadia Cup clash vs Portland

The Vancouver Whitecaps are getting set to take on the Portland Timbers in MLS action this weekend. Here’s our preview ahead of that one. 

With their season off the mark, they now want to get on a roll. 

And a perfect opportunity to do so lies in front of them this weekend.

Fresh off of a big 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City at BC Place last weekend, their first of the 2022 MLS season, the Vancouver Whitecaps are looking to make it two in a row this Saturday, as they welcome their longtime rivals, the Portland Timbers, to Vancouver.

After a tough start to their MLS season, having picked up just 1 point through their first 4 games, it was a nice bounceback for the ‘Caps against SKC in match #5, who rode a timely Ryan Raposo goal and some stout defending en route to the result in front of their home fans. 

So now, as they get set to face a struggling Portland Timbers side in match #6, one who sits just two points ahead of them in the standings, the ‘Caps will want to build off of that in this game, allowing them to quickly forget that nightmare start. 

With the added incentive of this being a Cascadia Cup game, a huge point of pride given the importance of that supporter’s run competition between Vancouver, Portland and the Seattle Sounders, they have every reason to want to win this game, keeping their good times rolling in the process. 

“We have to build on the win with another win,” Vancouver head coach, Vanni Sartini, said this week. “There’s no extra motivation to give to the players, we’re going to play in front of our fans, we’re playing against one of our rivals for the Cascadia Cup, so there’s a little extra motivation there.”

“And if we win, Portland is two points ahead of us right now so we’ll put them behind for at least a week, so we need to approach this game in the same way that we approached the game against Sporting Kansas City.”

And that isn’t lost on the players, either. 

They’ll look to come out strong in every game, of course, but they know that these Cascadia games are always extra special for the fans, something that they’ll keep in mind as they look to take the pitch on Saturday. 

“Yeah obviously it’s an important game,” ‘Caps striker, Brian White, said. “Especially because it’s at home against Portland, from being here, I know that this game and the games against Seattle are big for the Cascadia Cup, so there’s going to be a lot of pressure (on us) in this game to come out with points.”

But while there will be a lot of focus on the importance of this rivalry to the fans, and rightfully so, this will be quite the matchup on the field.

On one side, you’ve got the ‘Caps, who despite their tough start to the year, have done well to improve in every outing despite dealing with a tough schedule and some untimely injuries.

And they won’t get any relief in the form of injuries this weekend, either, because while Leonard Owusu looks likely to return after a foot injury, they still remain without Erik Godoy and Caio Alexandre (and possibly Tristan Blackmon). 

But even as they deal with that, they’ll look to prove that won’t be an issue for them, giving them a chance to flex their depth. 

Then, on the other side, there are the Timbers, who actually enter this game as one of the better teams in MLS in terms of underlying numbers, even though that isn’t exactly reflected in the standings. 

Plus, much like with Vancouver, they’ve dealt with a fair share of absences, so it really feels like they’re due a big win, making it hard to know what version of them we’ll see on Saturday.

Because of all that, Sartini was careful when discussing the Timbers, as while he’ll certainly target specific aspects of their game, he’ll prefer to instead focus on what his team can do, knowing that they’ll want to take advantage of their rivals’ slow start. 

“I think the most important thing won’t be just concentrating on their defence or attack,” Sartini said. “But concentrating on us and how we press and how we build-up will be the key to our game in order to be dangerous for the other team.”

And speaking of that, one area that the ‘Caps will hone in on specifically when it comes to their own play?

Scoring goals. 

It might seem elementary, yes, but considering that the ‘Caps have just 3 goals in 5 games this year, it’s a huge area for improvement, making it something that they’ll want to improve on for Saturday. 

So seeing that they’re coming up against a Timbers side who has given up a Western Conference-leading 11 goals this season, they’ll feel confident in their ability to change that, as they look to make up for their early-season struggles. 

As White noted, the ‘Caps have a lot of improvement to do in that regard, but this game might be a good way for them to find their confidence in that aspect of the game, something that they’ll certainly be banking on. 

“Yeah, it’s about being a little bit sharper, a little bit cleaner in the final third,” White said. “I think there were moments last game where if we were a little bit sharper, we’d get better chances, and that just comes with time and getting the reps in on the training field, too.”

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Florian Jungwirth

But while a lot of emphasis heading into this game for the ‘Caps has been placed on their offence, they won’t want to sleep on their defence, which is reflected in our player to watch for this week, ‘Caps centre back, Florian Jungwirth. 

And with the ‘Caps fresh off of a big clean sheet last weekend, their second of the season, they’ll want to keep that sort of big defensive performance going into this week, and Jungwirth is expected to be a big part of that. 

Even if he didn’t play last week, he’s a key part of this backline, and with the ‘Caps reliable offseason acquisition, Tristan Blackmon, looking like a doubt for this game as he deals with a concussion, Jungwirth could have a big role to play in his absence. 

Because of that, look for the fiery defender to slot right in and bring his leadership to this backline, helping them pick up where they left off last time out, while also ensuring that they’re up to the task emotionally for such a big derby game. 

Florian Jungwirth celebrates in a ‘Caps home game in 2021 (Keveren Guillou)

The Big Question:

Can the ‘Caps find a multi-goal effort?

But returning to the ‘Caps offence, they remain the centre of attention in our big question, as the hosts will look to do something on Saturday that they’ve failed to do in their last 8 games, and 9 out of their last 10 games – score more than 1 goal in a match. 

Plus, adding to that, the only time that they scored more than 1 goal in a match was when they scored 2 goals in a 2-1 win over Minnesota United, so it wasn’t as if they had a massive goal outburst in that game, either. 

The good news, however, is that the last time that they scored more than 2 goals in a game? 11 games ago, when they beat these Portland Timbers 3-2, in a game where the ‘Caps actually came back from down 2-0 to win on the road last year. 

So seeing that, they’ll look to channel some similar magic this time around, giving their fans plenty to cheer about this weekend. 

Stat to Watch:

The ‘Caps lone loss at BC Place since the start of 2021? A 1-0 loss to the Portland Timbers in September of 2021. 

Otherwise, it’ll be interesting to see if the Timbers can play spoiler once again in front of the home crowd on Saturday, as they did so well to do last season. 

The ‘Caps have been excellent at BC Place since returning from their great American adventure last summer, so it’ll be hard for them, but given that the Timbers are the only team to so far spoil their Vancouver return, they’ll have to be careful of their rivals in this one. 

If there’s one thing that we know about Cascadia, it’s that all of these teams love to spoil parties in opponents’ buildings, and given that they’ll have a strong smattering of away fans for this one, you know that they’ll be looking to do that once again.

So for Vancouver, it’ll be all about making sure that the Timbers and their fans don’t have much to cheer about on their journeys home, giving their home fans the result worth treasuring, instead. 

Last Meeting: 

The Portland Timbers stormed out to a 2-0 lead before halftime at home in an October 2021 clash vs the ‘Caps, courtesy of Yimmi Chara and Dairon Asprilla. But the ‘Caps would end up having the last laugh on the night, as Deiber Caicedo, Brian White and Cristian Dajome would help their side complete a remarkable comeback, one that arguably might’ve gotten the ‘Caps into the playoffs in hindsight. 

Projected XIs:

Vancouver Whitecaps:

Record: 1W-3L-1D (4 PTS)

Head Coach: Vanni Sartini

Portland Timbers:

Record: 1W-2L-3D (6 PTS)

Head Coach: Gio Savarese

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Portland Timbers, Saturday, April 9th, 2022, 19:00 PDT, 22:00 EDT (BC Place, Vancouver)

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