PORTLAND, OREGON – In exactly two weeks time, Vancouver Whitecaps FC will kick off the 2014 Major League Soccer season against the defending Supporters Shield-winning New York Red Bulls at BC Place.
And though it’s hard not to look ahead, there’s still some important business to take care of.
For Whitecaps FC, the upcoming Rose City Invitational preseason tournament could play a significant part in determining the squad that takes to the pitch on opening day.
The 'Caps are set to open the competition on Sunday afternoon against Jamaican club Portmore United. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. PT at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon.
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Sunday's tilt with Portmore United will be Vancouver's fifth match of the preseason. To this point, the 'Caps have posted a 2W-2L-0D record with their most recent outing ending in a 1-0 win over the University of Victoria Vikes last weekend.
"We’ve been building slowly in the games and it’s now time to step it up a notch or two in these final games before the important first game of the season," said Whitecaps FC assistant coach Gordon Forrest after Saturday's training session in Portland. "Over the course of the three games, we can try a few different things, a few different combinations, and a few players in positions that we want to really look at."
The 'Caps brought a total of 33 players to Portland, though Residency midfielders Kianz Froese (groin) and Mitch Piraux (ankle) have returned home due to injury. Among the group of players in Portland are strikers Kekuta Manneh, who participated in Wednesday's Blue and White intrasquad match and is hoping to make his preseason debut this week, and Kenny Miller, who is now back to full training after a quad injury kept him out of action earlier in the preseason.
Forrest said to expect a blend of youth and experience in the lineup on Sunday, as there are still spots to be had on the team's opening day roster.
"There's really everything to play for in these three games," he said.
Portmore United come to Portland in the midst of the 2013-14 Jamaican National Premier League season. Currently, they sit in 10th place out of 12 teams with 6W-9L-7D record after dropping their most recent match by a score of 1-0 to rival Waterhouse on Thursday.
It’s been a tough season for the five-time National Premier League champion, who only recently climbed out of the league's relegation zone (made up of the bottom two teams). However, just one point ahead of 11th-place Rivoli United with 11 matches remaining, they are by no means out of the woods just yet.
Defence has been the club’s strength this season, as only three teams have surrendered fewer goals.
“They are a really disciplined team,” said Whitecaps FC striker Darren Mattocks, whose hometown is Portmore. “They’ve always been a really disciplined team. In fact, I think they’re the most disciplined team in Jamaica, to be honest. They’re going to come out aggressive.”
On the other hand, Portmore has struggled at times offensively, having scored just 17 goals in 22 matches. Twenty-two year-old striker Adoah Nickle leads the team with four goals, followed by 21-year-old midfielder Ricardo Morris with three.
“Ricardo is a dangerous player,” said Whitecaps FC midfielder Andre Lewis, who spent three years in the Portmore United system. “He could damage us if we give him the chance to play. They also have Paul Wilson and Damian Williams, who is an experienced player in the middle. We are just going to play soccer. If you’re going to play Barcelona, you say take Messi. You still have to try and take Neymar, Xavi, and Iniesta. You just have to play. We’re just going to play Vancouver football.”
Whitecaps FC begin their 2014 MLS season on March 8 versus New York Red Bulls at BC Place. Season tickets start at just $349, subject to applicable fees. The 'Caps also offer a flexible range of ticket products, including half-season tickets ($244), 5-packs ($149), student season tickets ($199), and a youth soccer half-season ticket ($100). For more information on all Whitecaps FC ticket options, call 604.669.9283 ext. 2 or visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets.