The one thing I really dislike about sports in general is the overuse of clichés, but on a weekend when the dreaded Portland Timbers (W7-L8-D10) visit Van City, not only to try and take Our Cup away from us but also to put a dent in our playoff aspirations, it is awfully tempting to open the cliché vault and start throwing about the hackneyed trivialities to emphasize how absolutely massive this game truly is.
It is what it is.
If the Vancouver Whitecaps (W7-L5-D12) can bust out of their rut this weekend then not only will they move back into first place in the Cascadia Cup standings (with a game in hand on both the Timbers and the Seattle Sounders might I add), but they will open up a five-point gap on the Timbers for the fifth, and final, MLS Western Conference berth.
These two clubs have enjoyed slightly different fortunes in recent weeks. In their past five matches the Whitecaps have a W1-L1-D3 record compared to the Timbers' record of W2-L2-D1. While the Timbers have the slight edge in points during this span, the biggest difference between these two clubs is the amount of goals they have scored. Portland has scored nine goals in their previous five matches compared to just four for Vancouver. The Timbers have scored at least one goal in each of these matches, whereas the Whitecaps have been kept off the score sheet three times by their opponents during the same time frame, and with a finite amount of points still up for grabs in this dwindling 2014 MLS season, the Caps have to rediscover their scoring touch - and they need to do it quickly.
Last weekend the Caps got off to a slow start against the LA Galaxy, and were punished by Landon Donovan just four minutes into the match. This weekend the Whitecaps will have to stay calm and composed (especially at the back) because since Vancouver goals are such a rarity these days, the Caps can no longer expect to score their way out of trouble.
Another reason for Vancouver to stay focused and disciplined is that there are currently two players that are just one yellow card away from suspension. The two players in question are Jordan Harvey, and the recently signed Mauro Rosales. These are two very important players for the Caps, and with so many crucial matches coming up in the next two months, it is vital that Vancouver has all hands on deck down the stretch.
Despite the bad news that midfielder Gershon Koffie is still recovering from a bruised ankle, the midfield is sure to be buoyed by the return of Matías Laba, who missed the LA game due to suspension. With Koffie unavailable for another match, will Carl Robinson return to his favored 4-2-3-1 or will he perhaps switch to the 4-4-2 diamond?
Another area of concern for Robbo will be the Caps' backline. Center back Johnny Leverón, who picked up a red card in the dying moments of last week's game, will be watching this one from the pressbox. Robinson does, however, have a couple of options to cover for Leverón, namely Carlyle Mitchell and newcomer, Kendall Waston, but are they adequate cover for the usually unflappable Honduran?
Even though the Timbers are not enjoying the same good form as they did in 2013, they still can be dangerous. Portland are currently fourth in MLS scoring with 41 goals, but have also conceded 43 goals. Vancouver will have to be wary of players like Maximiliano Urruti and Diego Valeri, who have 15 goals between them so far this year.
The Timbers defense, however, is a little suspect and much like their brethren from Upper Cascadia the Rose City outfit will also be missing a defender through suspension. Nobertoto Paparatto was sent off during last week's 4-2 loss to the Seattle Sounders for a nasty foul on Seattle's Chad Marshall.
My keys to this match are quite simple (at least they are on paper at any rate): keep it tight at the back and avoid the lapses and ball-watching that the Galaxy punished us for last weekend. Certainly the return of Laba will help tighten things up defensively. Also, the rest of the Whitecaps need to do more to help out Pedro Morales. Last week we saw him collecting the ball inside his own 18-yard box, and was pretty much nullified by LA for most of the match. Definitely having Rosales on the pitch will help Pedro out, but the forwards can also help the matter by making better runs to receive delivery of the ball and then keeping possession of it rather than cheaply turning it over like we have seen far too often.
Predicted starting XI: Ousted - Harvey - Mitchell - O'Brien - Beitashour - Teibert - Laba - Hurtado - Morales - Rosales - Mattocks
Predicted score: unless Vancouver can find a way to score again I think the Timbers win this match by a score of 2-1, but I would be very, very, very happy if the Whitecaps can prove me wrong (please prove me wrong, guys!)
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