The Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps FC will clash in the 2015 Major League Soccer (MLS) Cup Playoffs on Sunday in the Western Conference Semifinal First Leg at Providence Park. The two Cascadia Cup rivals .
The Whitecaps have never been to this stage in the post-season. The other two times they qualified to the playoffs they were eliminated in the Knockout Round, once by the LA Galaxy and once by FC Dallas. Both games were on the road and the Caps lost by identical 2-1 scorelines.
The Canadians have yet to play this post-season. Since they finished the regular season in second place in the West, they had a bye through first round of the playoffs. So now they will enter Providence Park with a lot of energy and motivation to get a positive result on the road. A victory or a couple goals in Portland might seal their trip to the Western Conference Finals, since the second match will be back at home in BC Place.
Vancouver manager Carl Robinson will be making his foray into the Conference Semifinals on Sunday. Therefore, he will need the help of his veterans, chiefly captain Pedro Morales and goalkeeper David Ousted to help settle the clubs nerves on the field.
The Whitecaps main goal will be to the break the exhausted Timbers with an early goal. Not only will that quiet the crowd, but for the Timbers, who just played over 120 minutes on Thursday, could easily deflate their confidence.
Whether it is Darren Mattocks, Kekuta Manneh or Octavio Rivero who starts up top in the Rose City, they all need to make Portland’s defense work. Running at the defense will force the Timbers defense to chase them, which will create holes in the back line. If the Caps create gaps in the defense then Portland keeper Adam Kwarasey will need to save the Timbers again.
However, Portland is no stranger to the playoffs, or the pressure that comes when facing a bitter rival in a series.
The Timbers have made the playoffs once in their five years competing in MLS. In 2013, then-rookie manager Caleb Porter took Portland to the postseason for the first time. They made a surprising run and got within an inch of qualifying to the MLS Cup. However, Real Salt Lake ended the dream as they were defeated in the Western Conference Final 5-2 over the two legs.
In spite of the disappointment of missing out on an MLS Cup Final, the Timbers do have experience of facing one of their Cascadia rivals in the playoffs. In the conference semifinals they faced the Seattle Sounders FC. They entered the series as underdogs; in fact, the popular opinion at the time was that the Sounders were finally going to get over the hump and potentially make it to their first MLS Cup Final.
That idea quickly changed when the Timbers went to CenturyLink Field and pulled out an upset victory by a score of 2-1. In the second leg Portland walked away with a 3-2 win and won the series 5-3, shocking the Rave Green. Two years later they are facing another bitter rival, which should lead to an emotional series.
Portland will need their veterans and the Timbers Army on Sunday to lead them past Vancouver in the first leg. It has only been three days since their dramatic penalty victory over Sporting Kansas City. The Timbers might have done everything possible to recover physically, but emotionally will be another challenge.
To face the Caps at any time is big match and emotions will run high due to the hatred that these two clubs share. Once again, Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri will need to keep a cool head on Sunday to create their chances.
Striker Fanendo Adi and super sub Maxiliano Urruti will also need to put on an accurate shooting display, and must take their chances when they come. However, no matter how many shots get on target they have to score early to keep their energy high and force the Whitecaps to be more aggressive and vulnerable on the counter.
However, every minute that passes and Portland fails to score the Caps will have more of an advantage. Their confidence will grow and the idea of scoring one or more goals at Providence will slowly start to look like a realistic task to accomplish.
To avoid the possibility of the Whitecaps getting their mojo in the middle of the match, Portland’s enforcer Diego Chará will have to prevent it. Portland may be without captain Will Johnson, who is still recovering from a surgery at the start of October. He was well enough to make the bench on Thursday evening, but didn't feature for the Timbers. That means the Colombian native is going have to step in again and give another game changing performance. If he does not dictate the midfield, then Portland will be heading to BC Place for the second leg in a lot of trouble.
Prediction: Portland 2-4 Vancouver
The Timbers will start the match on fire and ready to give their passionate fans another victory. They will take the lead, but the Whitecaps will stick around and drain the Timbers energy. In the end, Vancouver will head back home in prime position to advance to the Conference Final.