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Three storylines to watch ahead of Saturday’s Cascadia clash with Portland Timbers

VANCOUVER, BC – Vancouver Whitecaps FC visit Portland Timbers on Saturday for their second Cascadia clash of the 2015 season.

KICKOFF: 7:30 p.m. PT  TV: TSN RADIO: TSN 1410  MOBILE: bell.ca/mobiletv  ONLINE: TSN GO

Here are three storylines to get you set for Saturday’s match.

CASCADIA RIVALRY

It’s fair to say these two sides know each other well. Saturday will be the third time the ‘Caps have faced the Timbers in 2015 (including preseason) and the 81st time in history that the Cascadia rivals have clashed in a competitive match.

They say that familiarity breeds contempt – you need only look at this year’s card-filled pre-season encounter for evidence; so the ‘Caps can expect a tough time when they head to Providence Park on Saturday.

“They’re a good team, make no doubt about it” coach Carl Robinson told reporters at training this week. “It’s going to be a very tough game for us, they’re always are good games when we play against them whether it’s home or away.”

Part of what makes these Cascadia clashes so special is the atmosphere. Providence Park will be packed to the rafters on Saturday and with 750 ‘Caps fans making the trip South the Blue and White will be well represented.

“It’s a great place to play,” said goalkeeper David Ousted, who made his Whitecaps FC debut in Portland. “Seeing our ‘Caps fans, always down there strong and in numbers, makes it a great experience. It’s always something I’m looking forward to.”

RETURNING TIMBERS

Timbers’ captain and two-time MLS All-Star Will Johnson has been back in training this week after missing more than six months to injury. The midfielder broke his leg during the Timbers’ clash with Toronto FC at BMO Field last September and has been a big miss for Caleb Porter’s outfit.

He’s not the only familiar face who’s been missing from the lineup, as Diego Valeri has also been absent after injuring his ACL last term. However, both are expected to be in contention to return against the ‘Caps this weekend.

“It’s great that they’re back,” Carl Robinson told the media this week. “You don’t want to see any players, good players especially, being out for a long period of time. I hope they get back later rather than sooner, but I want them to get back as they’re both good lads as well as good players.”  

The Timbers have struggled without their star men so far in 2015, recording just two wins and seven goals in their nine matches this season. And while everyone in the league is looking forward to them returning to the pitch, I’m sure that ‘Caps fans, like the coach, wouldn’t mind too much if that return was still a week or two away.

REPLACING LABA

How do you replace a player like Matias Laba?

That’s the question facing Carl Robinson this weekend as he looks to replace a player who’s turned plenty of heads with his early season form.

"He does all the nitty, gritty jobs as well as anyone in the league,” Robbo said of the Argentine last week. “I'm not just saying this, but I wouldn't swap him for anyone in this league, because I think he's fantastic at what he does."

There’s no denying Laba’s importance to Robinson’s team, but with the defensive midfielder serving a one-match suspension after his red card against D.C. United last week there’s suddenly a spot opened up in the ‘Caps lineup.

“It’s large shoes to fill,” Jordan Harvey told reporters this week, “but we do have quality players that can fill that role. Deybi’s [Flores] got some minutes this year and he’s done well but then you’ve got Gershon Koffie and Russ [Teibert] that have been real stalwarts for this team from the very beginning, so they’ve got plenty of experience to fill this.”

Whoever steps into the starting XI will be tasked with keeping up the same brand of high energy pressing that Laba has come to epitomize so far this season. With 112, no team had more interceptions than Whitecaps FC in April. It’s a telling statistic, one that speaks volumes about the way Robinson wants his side to play when they’re out of possession. The good news is that in Koffie, Teibert and Flores the coach has a trio of tailor-made replacements to choose from.

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