After claiming a crucial 2-1 home victory over Sporting Kansas City this past weekend, Vancouver Whitecaps FC are set to embark on a two-game road trip, starting this Wednesday, October 20 against Cascadia rivals Portland Timbers.
Wednesday’s match will be the third and final meeting between the two teams this season, with both previous games ending in respective 1-0 victories for each side.
Ahead of the ‘Caps mid-week tilt, we look at the key threats for the Timbers and their lethal counter-attacking play.
Over the past two months, the Timbers have sky-rocketed to the top half of the Western Conference, only losing twice in their last 10 matches.
During the stretch, the Timbers have kept four clean sheets and scored a total of 20 goals.
A major part of their recent form has been the play of attacking midfielder Sebastian Blanco, who’s made Portland’s attacking play much more dynamic since returning to the lineup from a long-term injury.
The diminutive Argentine usually lines up in the middle of the park as a number 10 but has been given a free role to roam wherever he wants, in order to create chances and chaos in the final third for his team.
Since returning to the Timbers’ starting lineup on a consistent basis, Blanco has tallied four goals and three assists, as well as another two assists in substitute appearances earlier on in the year when he was building up fitness.
Another offensive threat for the Timbers this season has been Colombian winger Dairon Asprilla.
The seven-year MLS veteran has had a career year in Portland this season, registering the most goal contributions in his MLS career with 11 (8 G, 3 A), with his previous high coming back in 2017 with seven.
Throughout the season, Asprilla has offered to be a threat in a variety of ways, such as taking on opposing defences 1v1, getting in behind opposing backlines, having a rip from distance and offering a presence off set pieces in the box.
Nevertheless, the ‘Caps will have to be wary of Asprilla in the areas above, as well as limiting Blanco from finding pockets of space to create some magic.
Other players to watch out for include striker Felipe Mora, winger Yimmi Chara and defender Claudio Bravo, all of whom have also played major parts in the Timbers’ late season surge.
Much of Portland’s success this season has come off their lighting quick transitional game, thanks to their strong defensive shape.
With plenty of pace and creativity on the counter, Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese has set up his team to become difficult to break down defensively and then once the moment is right to pounce on the ball to hit teams on the counter in a flash.
Of their last 20 goals, eight have come from hitting teams quickly on counter attacks.
In addition, the team has only won the possession battle in three of their last 10 games, showing how dedicated they are to their counter-attacking style.
As seen below in the first goal of the Timbers’ 6-1 win over Real Salt Lake at the end of September, in the flick of a switch the Timbers can get from one end of the pitch to the other and create a very high expected goals chance, which Mora finishes with ease.
However, a big part of the goal was the press from long-time Timbers defensive midfielder Diego Chara, who will be unavailable for selection on Wednesday due to yellow card accumulation.
Given the ‘Caps have been able to keep plenty of possession in the past couple months, it’ll be important for the team to stay alert when possessing the ball to prevent Portland from getting chances to win the ball back and hit on the break.
SET PIECE BATTLE
Wednesday’s clash will also see the battle of two of the best set piece teams in MLS, as both the ‘Caps and Portland rank amongst the league’s best in creating chances from dead ball situations.
At the time of writing, the Timbers sit first in the West (third in MLS) in completed dead-ball passes that lead to a shot attempt with 70 attempts, while the ‘Caps sit in second place in the West (fourth in MLS) right behind the Timbers with 68 attempts.
In terms of end production however, the ‘Caps have scored the most goals off dead ball situations in the league with nine, while Portland sit tied for sixth in the league with four.
It’s sure to be a feisty Cascadia derby this Wednesday, October 20 at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. PT. You can catch the match live on TSN1/5 and AM730, with the radio pre-game show starting at 6 p.m. PT.