The Portland Timbers hold their playoff fate in their own hands as the Vancouver Whitecaps visit the Rose City this Saturday. Vancouver and Portland sit 5th and 6th respectively in the Western Conference standings on 37 and 36 points. With time winding down in the regular season, coach Caleb Porter and the Portland Timbers will be out to match their last performance against the Whitecaps, a game they won 3-0 in Vancouver.
In that game, the Timbers managed just their third shutout of the entire year, the first against a team not named Chivas USA. Liam Ridgewell was the anchor in the center for the Timbers defense, while Jorge Villafana and Alvas Powell provided width and pressure on the wings from the back. The two young outside backs were favored to start thanks to their speed, which Porter used to shut down the speedy Vancouver attack.
On the offensive side of the ball, it was business as usual for Portland. The Timbers first got on the score sheet thanks to young defender Alvas Powell heading home a Diego Valeri cross. Maxi Urruti continued his scoring ways after being subbed on for Fanendo Adi in the 68th minute and Darlington Nagbe provided another assist on the third and final goal of the game. Check out the highlights from that game below.
It's very likely that Caleb Porter will put out the same starting XI this Saturday as in the last match between the two sides on August 30th in a 4-2-3-1 formation. This means Ridgewell, Villafana, and Powell will be joined by Pa Kah on the back line, and Donovan Ricketts will return to goal. In front of the back four will sit Diego Chara and Will Johnson. Both midfielders have played significant minutes for the Timbers this season, and were crucial in cutting off service from Pedro Morales into the final third.
Will Johnson sat out during the last league game, but Porter stated this was to rest him for their midweek CONCACAF Champions League game against CD Olimpia, and for Vancouver on Saturday. The rest of the starters from August 30th did not start against Olimpia.
A well-rested Timbers team means a strong attack, which is what Portland has had to rely on all too much throughout the season. The Timbers have the 3rd most goals in MLS regular season so far with 49 goals, and have put six past Whitecaps keeper David Ousted in their two games in 2014. Fanendo Adi will be the likely bet to start as the Timbers' lone striker. Adi will use his size and strength to provide holdup play while Nagbe and Rodney Wallace fill in around the 18.
Vancouver, with a point in hand, can breathe a bit easier if they come away with a draw on Saturday. The Whitecaps currently hold the 5th and final spot in the Western Conference in the fight for the playoffs, one spot and one point ahead of the Portland Timbers. But with a tough schedule to end the year, Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson will be trying for nothing less than three points.
The last time the Whitecaps were in Portland, they came away with three points thanks to a stellar performance from Pedro Morales who posted two goals and two assists. The Vancouver defense, which has been surprisingly solid this year, was able to repel a spirited comeback in the dying minutes of the game. However the defense has not been so great against the Timbers. Vancouver has given up three goals to Portland in their two games this season, and their defense hasn't necessarily improved. The Whitecaps will have to turn on their attack if they’re going to remain in 5th place at the end of the day.
Caleb Porter and the Portland Timbers certainly have heavy pressure to perform this Saturday against their Canadian foes. Failing to make the playoffs will pile on a huge amount of unwanted criticism that is already circling Timbers supporters. Portland has the personnel and the heart to make this late push for the playoffs. A spirited performance and three points against Vancouver will have fans riding high hopes going into the final five games of the season, but if Portland wants a spot in the 2014 playoffs they need their defense to start playing like that of 2013. The beginning of the end starts this Saturday in the Rose City against Vancouver.