The Whitecaps are set to play arguably the biggest game of their season Saturday when they tangle with the Portland Timbers at BC Place. The match has already sold out, so you know the atmosphere in the stadium is going to be absolutely electric. Ahead of the massive showdown, we checked in with Michael Orr of SBNation sister blog Stumptown Footy. We talked that rough outing versus the Sounders last match, the play of Maximiliano Urruti, and what's different about this squad from last season.
86 Forever: So, what went wrong against the Sounders?
Michael Orr: Oof, well, everything? Actually that's not exactly true, as the Timbers' attack was pretty strong, especially in the first half. That sounds strange given both Portland goals came in the second half but before the game got out of hand, Diego Valeri orchestrated several nice sequences.
The most specific answer is that the defense was an individual and collective disaster. From Michael Harrington to Liam Ridgewell to even the usually steady Diego Chara, the Timbers were repeatedly beaten by Sounders attackers. Seattle is just too good to make those kinds of mistakes against and Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins in particular, punished Portland. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln...
86F: Maximiliano Urruti is having a breakout year with 8 goals on the season so far. How is he finding success on the pitch?
MO: Urruti is a really hardworking forward, and that's how he earns his minutes. He pesters defenders with high pressure and is constantly moving, being a nuisance. Interestingly, though, that's not really where a lot of his goals come from. After Diego Valeri, who's leading the league with four goals from outside the box, Urruti is second in MLS with three goals from outside the 18.
He combines really well with Valeri and Gaston Fernandez and is very adept at placing his shots just out of reach of goalkeepers (that sounds stupid but he really does place the ball with his shots). He's a very talented young player when he puts it all together. The question for Saturday is whether or not Urruti will even start. With Fanendo Adi scoring his third brace of the season on Sunday against the Sounders, he could slip back into the XI against Vancouver this weekend. Either way, expect Urruti to get at least some playing time and to be problematic for the Whitecaps' center backs.
86F: Whats changed for this club from last year, where they were atop the Western Conference standings with 57 points?
MO: Really the biggest difference has been the inconsistency and downright poor play at the back. That has come from injuries and regression and really wasn't addressed until the Ridgewell signing this summer. Norberto Paparatto has been better than the disaster he was early in the season but even still, the defense allows multiple goals per game.
Portland's attacking players are perhaps even better than last year with Valeri leading the way, yet Darlington Nagbe has not yet scored in the league this year and Rodney Wallace missed half the year after an ACL injury last October. In short, a bunch of career years in 2013 (Nagbe, Wallace, Will Johnson, Ryan Johnson, Donovan Ricketts) have not been equalled and that means the Timbers are just a pretty good team on the edge of the playoffs.
XI: Donovan Ricketts; Michael Harrington, Liam Ridgewell, Pa Modou Kah, Alvas Powell; Will Johnson, Diego Chara; Rodney Wallace, Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe; Fanendo Adi