Teams: Portland Timbers vs Vancouver Whitecaps
Location: Providence Park, Portland
Date and Time: September 27th, 10:00 pm EST, 7:00 pm PST
Watching: TSN 2 (in Canada) & MLS Live on ESPN+ (in US); Radio: TSN 1040
What to expect
The Caps will be in Portland Sunday night for a, er, home game, and Caps fans better get used to it because this is going to be the arrangement for “home” matches the rest of the season.
It isn’t clear to me how this is going to impact the team’s play, if at all (neither Montreal nor Toronto have played their “home” matches yet). It is likely there are bigger things on the players’ minds, with their psyche is perhaps a bit fragile after the 6-0 drubbing they experienced in the midweek.
It will be interesting to see if Marc dos Santos opts for significant lineup changes, as he did after the Caps’ last truly embarrassing performance against the Impact. Those changes (with an assist from Rudy Camacho) worked to turn things around the next match.
The problem here is there aren’t really any clear areas where things can be improved—basically everything went wrong from the Caps’ perspective in Los Angeles.
Given that Ranko was subbed off at the half in favor of Andy Rose, it wouldn’t shock me to see him scratched for this game as well. I would expect Fredy Montero to return to the starting XI after looking generally strong as a sub against LAFC, although MDS will again find himself in the conundrum of what to do about Lucas Cavallini, who looked about as strong as could be expected given how disjointed the team’s attack was the other night.
Similarly, Dajome and Bair probably stood out enough against the mess that was Wednesday night to stay in the lineup (Bair in particular was hard done after a positive 20 minutes, before being promptly subbed off for Leonard Owusu).
It wouldn’t shock me to see a three-man midfield again, much like MDS did in attempting to right the ship the other night. Whether it actually improved the Caps’ control on the match is a whole question entirely but it wouldn’t shock me to see a Teibert-Bikel-Owusu midfield or something to that effect (unless Bikel has built up enough fitness to go a full 90 minutes, in which case I could see him and Baldisimo playing together).
The team will be faced with a tall task in managing a Portland Timbers team which is second in the Western Conference and has looked generally solid following the MLS Is Back tournament. That’s despite lacking Sebastian Blanco, who tore his ACL and is likely out until the middle of next year.
The Timbers have opted to fill Blanco’s shoes with a rotating cast of attacking players, all of whom offer some degree of tactical flexibility: Jeremy Ebobisse, Jaroslaw Niezgoda, Felipe Mora and Yimmi Chara, all of whom have been in pretty good form.
These players all offer something a bit different and, depending on who is in the lineup, the Caps will have different challenges. Niezgoda is a bit of a false nine: a smart, creative forward who can hold up play but hasn’t banged in many goals himself. Ebobisse is more of a traditional striker, who isn’t afraid to drop back and do the defensive dirty work. Mora and Chara are pacey players who can take men on one-on-one (not what the Caps want to see after dealing with Brian Rodriguez and Diego Rossi in the midweek). The defense will need to perform better Sunday night across the board, but that is especially true on the fullback end of things, lest they let Mora or Chara (both of whom have been playing well as of late) dominate them.
Defense is an area where the Timbers are a bit more vulnerable—their clean sheet against Seattle the other night was the first time they have shut out an opponent since March. They also conceded a 4-spot to LAFC and had a couple other matches where the attack bailed them out to grab a result.
Chris Duval on the right hand side has looked especially vulnerable, leading Gio Savarese to go with Pablo Bonilla or Marco Farfan in the role instead, both of whom have been nominally better. Could be a chance for an in-form Dajome to find some space and success on his side of the park.
Predicted Starting XI
I’m not feeling particularly confident about this one—Portland is in good form, the Caps very much are not. What we see from the team Sunday will likely tell us whether they will be galvanized by the LAFC result or if they’ll be crushed by it. I expect a better performance Sunday but the same result as Wednesday: a 2-1 or 3-1 loss.