Whitecaps face first big test of season - The Vancouver Sun

Host Portland Timbers boast league's top scorer and mirror Vancouver's undefeated record

By Bruce Constantineau

The Vancouver Whitecaps face their toughest test of the young season tonight when they battle their mirror image - the Portland Timbers -at PGE Park in the City of Roses.

Both teams lead their respective USSF D-2 conferences with 2-0-1 records and boast improved squads this year as they prepare to join Major League Soccer in 2011.

"It will be our first big test to see where we're at this year," said Caps captain Martin Nash. "They have big strong guys and can play with the ball as well so we're going to have to keep better possession than we have."

The Whitecaps will also have to deal with red-hot Timbers midfielder Ryan Pore, the league's leading scorer with four goals and one assist in three games. The speedy 26-year-old attacking player has four years of MLS experience with the Kansas City Wizards and was a first-team USL-1 all-star with Portland last season.

Nash said Pore is a dynamic player with pace who has a lot of freedom to "float around."

"We have to be aware of him but that just comes with team defence," he said. "If we defend well as a team, we should limit his chances."

Defending hasn't been a problem for Vancouver so far this year as the Caps have three clean sheets in three games. But the loss of centre back Mouloud Akloul -gone four months with an ankle fracture -has weakened the depth chart at the back line.

Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson said he's not inclined to bring in a new player to bolster the roster. The international transfer window doesn't reopen until July 15 but the Caps could add an unsigned free agent player -- like former Caps centre back Wesley Charles, who still trains with the team to stay fit.

"I haven't really thought about it much but my immediate thought is just to go with the players we have," Thordarson said. "We have lots of good players here."

Portland has added 11 new players this year, including former Minnesota Thunder defender Quavas Kirk, former Real Salt Lake defender Ian Joy and 22-year-old Nigerian striker O.J. Obatola.

Vancouver and Portland split two regular-season games last year but the Whitecaps won a two-game playoff series against the Timbers -beating Portland 2-1 at Swangard Stadium and drawing 3-3 at PGE Park.

The rivalry between the two MLS-bound teams is clearly growing and the atmosphere in Portland promises to be a lot more lively than the Caps' first road game in Miami this season, when a few hundred spectators showed up to watch.

Portland attracted 6,000 fans to its last home game against AC St. Louis and drew more than 15,000 to its home opener against Rochester.

"These are usually great games [against Portland]," Thordarson said. "They have lots of spectators down there and that's how we like it."

SIDE KICKS: Midfielder Jonny Steele -- out more than two months with a knee injury -- made the trip to Portland and is expected to make his Whitecaps debut against the Timbers ... Striker Marlon James, who sat out the last game with a hamstring injury, is expected to play ... the Nash brothers, Martin and Steve, will be in Portland at the same time -- Steve's Phoenix Suns play the Trail Blazers in NBA playoff action while Martin starts against the Timbers.

bconstantineau@vancouversun.com
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