Portland Playoff Preview

Video: Bobby Lenarduzzi Previews the Series

Vancouver Whitecaps look to defend their 2006 USL First Division title when they meet Portland Timbers in the playoff quarterfinals this weekend.

Bob Lilley’s side will take on their Pacific Northwest rivals in a two-game, total-goal contest, with the first leg set to take place at Swangard Stadium on Friday evening before both teams head down Interstate 5 for the second leg at Portland’s PGE Park on Sunday afternoon. The two-game series will also be the second and third meetings between the two clubs in the space of a week.

Both the Whitecaps and Portland concluded their 2007 USL-1 regular season campaigns last Sunday with a goalless draw at Swangard. Despite dominating their Oregon opponents, Lilley’s side were unable to find a way past former teammate and current Timbers goalkeeper Josh Wicks, who put in a superb shot-stopping performance for Portland. The result meant the Timbers finished second in the USL-1 standings, while Vancouver had to settle for seventh place after weekend stalemates with both Portland and Atlanta Silverbacks.

Despite a disappointing regular-season record of nine wins, seven defeats, and 12 draws, the Whitecaps head into the postseason full of confidence after some positive displays in recent games. “I feel we are where we need to be,” Lilley said after last Sunday’s game. “We’re playing very well offensively, as we’ve been breaking down teams that have defended well all year and making it look easy at times. If you look back now, we’ve lost one game in our last nine and we tied the majority of them. I’ve been in Canada long enough to know that when you’re struggling to score goals, you try and put bodies in front of the net. We know the ball fits in the goal, so we’ll keep at it. We’re definitely playing at a level to go on a run at playoff time.”

Before Sunday’s game with the Timbers, the Whitecaps had two other competitive contests with Portland at PGE Park. It was not until July 19 that Vancouver first faced the Timbers this season, and despite a fine goal by Martin Nash, Gavin Wilkinson’s side recovered to defeat Vancouver 2-1. The result was one of seven straight victories recorded by the Timbers, but their form slipped, as they claimed five draws and two defeats in their following seven games. This included a goalless home draw with the Whitecaps on August 11, with the pivotal moment of that contest being Vancouver’s sole red card of the regular season, as left fullback Steve Kindel was sent off for using an elbow in an aerial challenge with Portland’s Luke Kreamalmeyer. “For us, match-ups are match-ups,” Timbers assistant coach Rod Underwood told whitecapsfc.com. “People make a lot out of them before the whistle is blown, but next Friday night, we’ll know if the match-up is good one for us. Vancouver are an experienced team, but we’ll give it our best effort and see who gets the best result.”

Like last Sunday, Underwood is likely to be in charge of the Timbers for the first leg, as former New Zealand international Wilkinson remains in the process of landing his American permanent residency status or Green Card, and is unable to leave the United States at present.

Wilkinson should return to take his place on the Timbers bench for the decisive second leg at PGE Park, with the Whitecaps hoping to have some kind of an advantage for the Sunday afternoon game. Timber Jim and the Timbers Army should be out in full force to support their side, as Portland look to defend their undefeated home record. The City of Roses outfit registered eight wins, six draws, and no defeats at PGE Park during the regular season, with Portland having one of the firmest playing surfaces in USL-1. “It’s a travesty that it is a field in the league, but it is what it is,” said Whitecaps centre back Steve Klein. “I imagine that their guys don’t like playing on it either. We battled quite well on their turf this season, so hopefully, we get off to a good start on Friday and then do well down there. We’re going to try and win both games, so if we win on Friday, and then on Sunday, that will lock it up for us. I’m sure we’ll use the same tactic as we used last year in the playoffs by looking to win on the road.”

Friday’s quarterfinal playoff match at Swangard Stadium kicks off at 7:00 p.m. Single game tickets start at just $16 and are available by calling Ticketmaster at 604.280.4400 or visiting whitecapsfc.com. For more information on Whitecaps ticket packages and group rates, please call 604.669.WAVE (9283) or visit our tickets page.

You can also watch Friday’s game between the Whitecaps and Portland live on USLlive.com or on Shaw Cable. Check your local listings for time and availability.

Sunday’s playoff game between the Timbers and Vancouver kicks off at 5:00 p.m. You can watch the second leg live from Portland’s PGE Park on Fox Sports World Canada & Fox Soccer Channel in the US.

You can also listen to both of Friday and Sunday’s playoff games live on TEAM 1040 radio or via the internet on team1040.ca.