As I sit here in Starbucks across the street from the 20th/Morrison gate of Providence Park, I find myself a little more confused than when I arrived. When I left, it was simple: Just win, baby. Yeah, the Cup will end up in Seattle and Portland could fall to 4th, subject to the Seattle and SKC matches, but that would be whatever. Either way, the Western Conference road to MLS Cup is going through Cascadia. Portland or Vancouver will win the West. In a normal season, that would mean a trip to the CONCACAF Champions League, but not this year or next. Because CONCACAF tweaked the CCL, it created a qualification conundrum for both US Soccer and the Canadian Soccer Association. It was eventually determined that the 4 US teams that qualified for the 2018 CCL keep their spots. The real losers in this are the 2 regular season conference winners in 2017 and 2018. Instead, the Cup winners (MLS and US Open) get the 4 spots in the 2019 CCL. The CSA decided that if the winner of the 2017 Voyageurs Cup was not TFC, there would be a playoff at BMO Field.
I’ve had a few interesting thoughts over the past few days. One of them relates to how many people are looking for tickets to tomorrow’s match. My thought is that once the casual fan, or friends of ticketholders have a sudden interest in the match, because they can claim the Cascadia Cup (first time since 2012) and swipe 1st place from the Caps. On that note, this game shouldn’t mean as much as it currently does. My take on things: If you can’t defeat San Jose, you don’t deserve to be in 1st and as we’ve all seen, and thought, the Caps have to be one of the most unconvincing 1st place teams. With the West being so tight, I’ve come to the conclusion that in lieu of their Summer Slide that they usually endure, they only dropped 7 points in 9 matches covering a 6 week period launched them from out of the playoffs to 1st. However, that hasn’t been without results go their way. Games in hand are only useful when you capitalize on them. They had 2 on Portland (loss to Seattle and win vs SKC) and 1 on Seattle (win vs SKC), however, because of Hurricane Harvey, SKC had 1 game in hand (draw vs Hou). Obviously, losing to Seattle and Red Bulls and a draw against San Jose rendered all of that moot.
Normally, I don’t pay attention to the official website, but I actually think they got their key matchups right.
1)Attacking mid vs defensive mid
There’s no doubt that Valeri has put the Timbers on his back and carried them to this position. He should be MVP, but because this is MLS, he probably won’t be. Should be a good test for Aly Ghazal and Tony Tchani.
On the flip side, Yordy Reyna has proved to be a handful for opposing teams. While I have a great deal of respect for Diego Chara, and to a lesser extent (only because I don’t know his tendancies well enough) David Guzman, do they have the speed in pursuit to catch him. Also, Portland’s CBs aren’t the greatest, so could the combination of Reyna, Bolanos (Shea), Techera and Montero exploit them.
2)Darlington Nagbe vs Jake Nerwinski
In speaking about this last night with a buddy of mine, Nagbe prefers to play centrally, in a holding role. He also brought up that Nagbe is like their “safety valve” in the sense that they get him the ball and he keeps it while everyone else re-groups. ever since Williams had his issues the law, Nerwinski has impressed, but I don’t recall him being challenged in the way Nagbe could. Compounding that is Valeri and his exploits. Will he manage to pull Waston or Parker to one side and open up the middle for Mattocks or Adi (if he plays)?