The Vancouver Whitecaps will look to bump a two match losing slide when they take on the Portland Timbers this weekend. While Vancouver is jostling for top spot in the Western Conference with 32 points, the Timbers are snapping at their heels with 31, so there's not better time for the Whitecaps to bust their mini-slump.
To learn more about what the 'Caps will be battling on Saturday, we spoke with Will Conwell of fellow SBNation site, Stumptown Footy.
Eighty-Six Forver: The caps backline will be disjointed, with Kendall Waston off to the Gold Cup. How can the Timbers exploit that?
Stumptown Footy: Despite last week's disappointing showing against the Philadelphia Union, the Timbers' have plenty of attacking talent and know where to apply it. Portland has feasted on the defenses of weakened teams in recent weeks, winning their last five home games by a combined score of 10-1 and getting goals from Maximiliano Urruti (2), Fanendo Adi (4), Gaston Fernandez, Darlington Nagbe, Rodney Wallace, and Jack Jewsbury in that time.
Moreover, Diego Valeri is finally rounding back into form after looking rusty in the wake of the sprained ankle he suffered back in May. When he is on, Valeri is one of the best in MLS, so the Whitecaps should come into this one holding their breath and hoping that Valeri does not find the groove it looked like he was entering when he first returned from the torn ACL that kept him sidelined for the start of the season.
86F: What Timber should Whitecap defenders keep an eye on?
SF: While Valeri is the easy answer to this question, the reality is that the Timbers are too deep in the attack for a team to key on any one player. While Valeri has been slumping, Fernandez and Nagbe have both stepped up to run the attack; when Wallace struggled, Dairon Asprilla stepped up to provide an attacking presence on the wing; When Adi has gone through a goal drought, Urruti has filled in well.
The Timbers' attack is based around forcing their opponents to commit number to stop one player while opening space for another player to create a chance. Whether that means Valeri floating to a wing to create space for Nagbe, or Fernandez making a run to draw a defender off Adi, or just Adi holding up the ball and laying it off for a quick shot from any of the above, the Timbers are all about creating space for each other.
86F: Where will Portland be in the standings at the end of the season?
SF: I hate making predictions, but at this point it feels pretty darn likely that the Timbers will end the season in the playoffs. How they fare beyond that is something more of a mystery and will be largely dependent on how the Timbers' health holds up. With no more viciously packed areas in the schedule, the Timbers will have every opportunity to keep themselves healthy as they keep to a simple one game per week regimen for the rest of the year.
If they can get healthy and stay that way, the Timbers have every chance at being at the top of the table in the Western Conference, if not MLS as a whole. MLS may be absurdly even, but now -- around two thirds of the way through the season -- it is starting to become clear who the playoff teams are and who will be left behind, and the Timbers will not be left behind.