This has the makings of being a cracking game. We have Cascadia Cup rivals Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Portland Timbers meeting for the second time in Major League Soccer on Sunday afternoon.
Whitecaps FC and Timbers are both MLS expansion teams. The 'Caps will be looking for revenge after losing 2-1 in Portland on August 20. Sunday is Vancouver's first game on Bell Pitch downtown at BC Place and Portland would love to spoil our home opener. The Timbers are in the chase for an MLS Cup Playoff spot, and a loss against Vancouver would be devastating to their postseason quest, and joyous for our 'Caps. To top it off, the Timbers Army will be there in full force to add to the fantastic atmosphere expected at our refurbished new home.
It is a must win game for Portland, and they will be hoping to have as fast a start as their home game against Vancouver when they took the lead inside the first two minutes of the match at JELD-WEN Field. I don't see the Timbers changing tactics, as a draw or defeat does not help them at this stage of the season. They will probably stick with a 4-4-2 formation and try to pressure their hosts all over the pitch. Timbers head coach John Spencer was a fierce competitor as a player for club and country (England's Chelsea FC and Scotland) and his team shows the same fire when they play. Portland are a young and fast team and the 'Caps will have to match their energy from kickoff.
They will be missing two key players for this game through suspension. 20-year-old Kalif Alhassan is second in assists on the team and has started 24 of his 29 appearances for the Timbers. The Ghanaian has been one of their most consistent players this season, so he will be missed. But an even bigger blow for Portland will be the loss of their captain Jack Jewsbury. He leads the Timbers in goals (7) and assists (8) and is the driving force behind most of team's successes so far.
In goal for Portland is Troy Perkins, who is in good form for the Timbers, having won the MLS Save of the Week honour for Week 28. Perkins has recorded six or more saves in his last two appearances, which means the Timbers defence are giving up a number of chances. It is an area that the 'Caps strikers will need to capitalize on.
Up front will be an interesting call for Spencer, as the duo of Kenny Cooper and Darlington Nagbe have cooled off in the last couple of games, having been held scoreless in Portland's last two road matches. The Scottish tactician has the option of starting Colombian Jorge Perlaza alongside Cooper. The South American is the Timbers' second-leading scorer and had a goal and an assist against Whitecaps FC in their 2-1 win back in August.
There is so much at stake for both teams and I see a lot of blood and thunder in this latest game between these Cascadia Cup rivals. With the Whitecaps FC players still smarting from not being able to give Empire Field the right send off. They will be looking to chop the Timbers down to size and christen Bell Pitch downtown at BC Place with a thrilling victory.