Preview: Caps Visit Timbers

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Spo

It took the Portland Timbers nine weeks to get their first win of the season, much to the joy of FTBL's spoof sponsor havethetimberswonamatchyet.com. But since then, the wood cutters have gone undefeated, winning three of their last five - including victories over New York and Chivas in the past five days.

It's certainly been a bit of a turnaround for the Timbers, whose first two months in the 2014 season was largely spent conceding late markers that saw them repeatedly snatch draws from the jaws of victory.

The Timbers are now sitting sixth in the Western Conference on a record of 3W-3L-7D for 16 points, just one point behind the Whitecaps, who do have a pair of matches in hand.

For Vancouver, who have never beaten the Timbers in the MLS era (0-4-4), the trips down the I-5 to Providence Park (formerly Jeld-Wen Field) to visit the southernmost of our Cascadian bretheren have been an exercise in disappointment.

Portland was where former keeper and fan favourite Joe Cannon conceded a softie FK, and thus began his slow death spiral with the Caps organization. In a weird twist of fate, the Rose City also happens to be where current starting keeper David Ousted made his MLS debut between the sticks for the Caps.

Sunday's match is the second of two consecutive Cascadia Cup matchups for the Caps, who drew last week with the Sounders 2-2 back home at BC Place. A win on the weekend could vault the Caps into first place in the Cascadia Cup standings - but let's not get ahead of ourselves, as there's a lot of Cascadian footy yet to be played this year.

Coach Caleb Porter plays a standard 4-2-3-1, like Vancouver, but is even more active than Caps skipper Carl Robinson in terms of juggling the names for the starting XI from week to week. In fact, Porter's called upon a total of 10 different players to fill the four attacking positions over the past four matches. It really is a matter of Plug 'n Play for Portland, who have a good number of decent moving parts.

Strikers Max Urruti and Gaston Fernandez (five goals apiece) have combined for a shade over 50% of the team's scoring this season. Major League Soccer fans will recognize the Argentine's name from the seven matches he played in 2013, the first two for Toronto, and the balance for Portland. Signed in January, Fernandez also hails from Argentina, and has spent the past 11years playing in both Mexico's Liga MX and Argentina's Primera División.

Most of the rest of the Timbers' goals have come from a committee of midfielders with a pair each - 4th year man Darlington Nagbe not being one of them. Nagbe had a career year for the Timbers last season, starting all 34 matches, and finishing second on the team in scoring (9). He's started 12 matches so far this year, but has yet to find the net. On the plus side, he's tallied three assists, second only to Diego Valeri, who has four helpers.

For their part, the Caps are carrying a decent head of steam, as they're undefeated in their past five matches. That momentum, combined with the bonus incentive of Cascadia Cup points up for grabs, and the fact that Portland will be playing their third match in eight days, should make for a solid showing by Vancouver on foreign soil.

If the Whitecaps are to be denied the full three points yet again in Portland, it could well come down to the play of Timbers keeper Donovan Ricketts, who seems to have made a career out of playing well against Vancouver.

Key matchups: Gaston Fernandez vs Mathias Laba; Pedro Morales vs Will Johnson.

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