Aly Ghazal - slide tackle - sea to sky
Bob Frid/Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Key matchups for Sunday's Decision Day derby match in Portland

VANCOUVER, BC – On Sunday afternoon at Providence Park, longtime Cascadia rivals Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Portland Timbers will play for the top spot in the Western Conference (1 p.m. PT on TSN1 and TSN 1040) as part of 2017 MLS Decision Day.

There have been some great battles between these two clubs over the years. And, as both teams discussed this week, this has all the makings of another one.

Here are the matchups I’ll be watching.

ALY GHAZAL (DM) VS. DIEGO VALERI (AM)

Diego Valeri is the hands down favourite for MLS MVP.

The Argentine attacking midfielder has 21 goals on the season – second to only Chicago Fire striker Nemanja Nikolic – to go along with 11 assists. Valeri, in fact, is only the second player in MLS history to record 20 goals and 10 assists in a single season.

Shutting down Valeri, who plays centrally as a #10, will likely be the main assignment for Vancouver’s new Egyptian defensive midfielder Aly Ghazal. This will be Ghazal’s first game against Portland, but he’s already established himself as an imposing presence in midfield.

Here’s an example from last weekend vs. San Jose – a match in which Ghazal set new season-highs in touches (66), tackles (six), and recoveries (13). 

The ‘Caps, who are 3W-1L-2D with Ghazal in the starting XI, will be hoping for more of the same on Sunday in Portland.

YORDY REYNA (AM) VS. DIEGO CHARA (DM)

Yordy Reyna has completely changed the dynamic of Vancouver’s attack since returning from a left foot fracture suffered at Providence Park in the preseason. The Peruvian attacking midfielder has six goals – tied for second best on the team – and three assists in just 10 starts.

Like Valeri, Reyna has a knack for finding space in the attacking box, as he showed with his goal against San Jose. He’s also lightning quick on the dribble.

I mean, watch him just fly here.

Reyna will likely be seeing a lot of Timbers defensive midfielder Diego Chara, whose 97 tackles on the season are fourth best in MLS. Interestingly, Chara hails from Colombia, and Reyna from Peru – two neighbouring countries in South America.

This should be a good one.

JAKE NERWINSKI (RB) VS. DARLINGTON NAGBE (LW)

In Vancouver’s last visit to Providence Park, a 2-1 loss back in April, Darlington Nagbe led the way for Portland with an absolute screamer of a strike to go along with an assist. The U.S. international, who has been playing on the left wing, is always capable of changing a game.

On Sunday, he’ll likely be lined up opposite to rookie right back Jake Nerwinski.

Nerwinski, who turned 23 on Tuesday, has been a revelation for Whitecaps FC this season, recording five assists in 18 starts. His latest assist, as you can see below, came last weekend against San Jose. 

Sunday will no doubt be one of Nerwinski's biggest tests yet.