VANCOUVER, BC – Bring on the champs.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC (3W-5L-2D) host defending MLS Cup champions and longtime Cascadia rivals Portland Timbers (3W-3L-3D) on Saturday afternoon at BC Place in a rematch of last year’s heartbreaking playoff defeat.
KICKOFF: 2 p.m. PT | TV: TSN1 | RADIO: TSN 1040
Here’s everything you need to know about the match.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS FC
Through 10 matches, the ‘Caps sit eighth in the Western Conference with 11 points. They enter Saturday’s contest one point shy of the seventh-place Timbers, who have a game in hand.
“There are things we can improve on, and if we do that we’re still in the hunt,” said Whitecaps FC goalkeeper David Ousted. “I think we’re six points out of first. That’s nothing. We know how tight this Western Conference is going to be. It’s about staying in the hunt and improving on those things to really get this team going.”
Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson echoed Ousted’s sentiment, saying the ‘Caps need to eliminate “the fundamental errors at wrong times” that have proved so costly.
But Robinson said it’s also a matter of playing with a little more fight and fire.
“Derby games are not about all the quality in the world, it’s about rolling your sleeves up and it’s about fighting,” he said. “If you do that and come out on top of your battles, the quality then takes care of itself. That’s what we’ve got to get back to.”
Robinson will have centre back Kendall Waston at his disposal once again on Saturday after the Costa Rican sat out last weekend’s 3-2 loss to New York City FC due to a red card he picked up vs. Sporting KC. On the other hand, Kekuta Manneh will be serving a one-match suspension.
The defending champions didn’t get off to a great start to 2016, winning just one of their first six matches. But they appear to have found their form, having won two of their last three.
Their most recent result was a 2-1 win over Toronto FC last weekend at Providence Park. Backup goalkeeper Jake Gleeson, who is filling in for the injured Adam Kwarasey, made four saves in the victory, which earned him MLS Player of the Week honours.
Striker Fanendo Adi and midfielder Diego Valeri provided the scoring, as they’ve done so often this season. In fact, one of the two players have either scored or assisted 11 of Portland’s 14 goals. Safe to assume the ‘Caps will be keying in on those two, though Darlington Nagbe is no slouch in midfield either.
Another storyline to watch on Saturday is the return of Darren Mattocks.
On March 14, the ‘Caps dealt Mattocks to Portland in exchange for general allocation money, targeted allocation money, and an international roster spot for the 2017 season. So far this season, he has one goal and one assist in seven appearances.
This will be Mattocks’ first match against his old team.
Kendall Waston (CB) vs. Fanendo Adi (FWD): This is the main event. Adi (6-foot-4) and Waston (6-foot-5) are big boys who love to battle. Adi is the Timbers’ danger man up front, having scored seven of their 14 goals so far this season. And Waston, a reigning MLS Defender of the Year finalist, is returning to the ‘Caps lineup after serving a one-match suspension. Pass the popcorn.
Matias Laba (M) vs. Diego Valeri (M): Adi may be the danger man, but Valeri pulls the strings offensively. He leads the Timbers with three assists and a league-high 32 chances created. Laba, a fellow Argentine, makes a living off of containing these sorts of creative players. If he can help do so on Saturday, it will give the ‘Caps a good chance to get a result.
Nicolas Mezquida (M) vs. Diego Chara (M): Mezquida has been one of Vancouver’s liveliest players over the last month. Certainly, that was the case last weekend against NYCFC, when he set up the opening goal less than a minute into the match. Should he get the start again on Saturday, he’ll be seeing a lot of Chara, a defensive midfielder who leads MLS with 37 tackles.
There’s a long history between these two clubs, dating back to 1975.
They also both joined MLS in 2011. Since that time, the Timbers have had the upper hand with a 7W-2L-7D record. That includes their triumph in last year’s Western Conference semifinal, in which they defeated the ‘Caps 2-0 at BC Place after a scoreless first leg in Portland.
But don’t be fooled: these are two evenly-matched teams.
Last year, they met five times between the regular season and playoffs – each team won a match and they drew three times. Portland scored a combined four goals and Vancouver scored three.
That says it all.
DID YOU KNOW?
The ‘Caps rank 19th in average possession so far this season and Portland ranks 17th. Both teams thrive off the counter-attack, which should make for an intriguing tactical battle.