The Vancouver Whitecaps head south to Lower Cascadia to face the Portland Timbers for a third and final time in the MLS 2015 regular season. This game will prove to have tremendous implications down the stretch for both MLS and Cascadia Cup standings. The Whitecaps remain in a three way tie with Seattle and FC Dallas at the top of the Western Conference. They are followed closely by their expansion cousins from Portland by a mere point. In the Cascadia Cup race, it remains an open battle with the Whitecaps and Timbers tied with four points following the Sounders who sit atop the chart with six points.
The Whitecaps head down the I-5 after dropping two games in a row against Western Conference rivals Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City so the Blue and White will have to rely on their much improved road form to get out of this "mini-slump" if they want to remain high up in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
The Timbers head into this match as one of the hottest sides in MLS having won 6 out of the last 8 games and with five straight wins at Providence Park, including four clean sheets. While it is true that Portland had a poor outing last weekend in Philadelphia where they were downed by a score of 3-0, the Whitecaps need to take this result with a bucket of salt as the Timbers decided to rest a large portion of their starting XI squad in preparation for their Cascadia clash against the Whitecaps tomorrow night.
The Whitecaps and Timbers have already faced each other twice in 2015 resulting in a dramatic last minute win for the Whitecaps a BC Place in the earlier stages of the season and a grinding 0-0 draw at Providence Park back in May. It is important to note that for both of the previous matches the Timbers were unable to feature two of their most important players, captain Will Johnson and attacking midfielder Diego Valeri who were, at the time, returning from long term injury. Both Johnson and Valeri have returned to form and have been a big catalyst for the Timbers resurgence in the league.
The Whitecaps head coach will face some challenges regarding his starting XI as his squad continues to take big hits in player availability due to national call-ups or injuries. Defensive bastion Kendall Waston has joined Costa Rica for the knockout stage of the Gold Cup while Darren Mattock's Reggae Boyz continue to be away for the same tournament. Waston's central back partner Pa Modou Kah will miss the visit to his former club with a calf injury. The same affliction has left Vancouver's captain Pedro Morales out of the lineup for several weeks now and, while it has been reported that he has made improvements in his recovery, it remains unclear if he will be able to return to the squad for this important fixture.
With the Whitecaps' starting central defenders out of commission for this match and with Diego Rodriguez still returning to form from his own injury woes, it seems that the defensive responsibilities of stopping Fanendo Adi, Maximiliano Urruti and company will most likely fall on the shoulders of youngsters Tim Parker and Christian Dean. Both Parker and Dean are Whitecaps first round picks from the 2015 and 2014 MLS Superdraft respectively. The pair has cooked up a good chemistry as starting central backs for several matches with Whitecaps FC 2. While Parker has surprised and delighted many with his MLS appearances so far this season, both as a central and right back, Dean remains a question mark with the caveat that most of his MLS appearances have come out of his preferred position in the middle of the defense. Regardless, the young pair will have no time to adjust and will need to respond to the Cascadia derby call - this is not USL. This will be a great opportunity for both of the young defenders to prove themselves and rise to the challenge.
If you wish to listen to our preview of this match along with our thoughts of the Whitecaps loss against Kansas City this past weekend, don't miss episode 88 of From the Backline, the official podcast of Eighty Six Forever.