BC Place will host the decisive game two of the MLS Western Conference Semifinals matchup between the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
The series is still a scoreless draw after game one at Providence Park last Sunday. Now the pressure shifts to Vancouver as they are forced to win the match at home. If the game ends a 1-1, 3-3 or even a wild and crazy 10-10 draw the Timbers would advance to the Western Conference Final by virtue of the away goals rule.
However, what makes this matchup that much more attractive than the 0-0 aggregate heading into game two is the rivalry. These two clubs do not like each other at all. This hatred that began in the early 70’s back in the old National American Soccer League (NASL), and has grown into a well known rivalry in the MLS. Now Portland or Vancouver has the chance to not only advance to the next round but also eliminate their fellow Cascadia Cup rivals in the process.
One might imagine that since the match is in Canada, the Whitecaps are the favorite to win. However, the Caps had a mediocre season at home going (W-D-L) 9-2-6 and finishing with a +5 goal differential. Now add on to the list that Vancouver’s captain Pedro Morales is still labeled as questionable for this game with a right hamstring strain.
It is no secret that without him the Whitecaps struggle. This season when Vancouver was forced to sub him in or just not use the Chilean native, they have a 4-3-6 record.
However, even if Morales is not completely ready there is a good chance Caps manager Carl Robinson might start the captain or give him more minutes than he did in game one. Robinson could well be forced to because if they fail to win their season is done. The only way the South American native will not play on Sunday is from his own request or the doctor not allowing him too.
However, the possibility of Vancouver not having their captain in the second leg is just one problem. The other is that the Timbers are a decent club on the road. Portland ground out an impressive 7-2-8 record away from Providence Park this season; only the Whitecaps finished with a better road record at 7-3-7.
Now the final dagger for the Canadians ahead of this game is Will Johnson. The captain of Portland has been taken off the injury list. He most likely is nowhere near game match fitness, but his presence alone will bring that extra motivation for his teammates.
One more blow to the Caps' armor is the timing of this game. The Timbers are filled with confidence from their players, fans and manager Caleb Porter. More importantly their stars are in form. Darlington Nagbe just received his first call up to the United States Men’s National Team for a pair of World Cup Qualifiers. The 25-year-old creative midfielder will be running in full speed at BC Place. His momentum will give Diego Valeri more space to breathe which will result in the ball moving swiftly around the pitch.
The Timbers striker Fanendo Adi will benefit from this movement as he will have his fair share of chances to convert into goals. Vancouver’s defense and goalkeeper David Ousted will need to be on their toes when the Timbers rapid offense sprints down the field.
However, if for some reason Vancouver midfielders Matias Laba, Cristian Techera, Russell Teibert and Gershon Koffie are able to stun the Timbers attack and keep the ball, then the stingy Portland defense will be ready. Designated player Liam Ridgewell and MLS veteran Nat Borchers were brought to the Rose City for games like this. However, if the Caps get by or take a shot on goal then Ghanaian international and Portland goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey is more than up to the task.
In the end without Morales, Vancouver is a team without an identity. The main reason why they were the number two seed in the Western Conference was because the LA Galaxy ended the season so horribly that they fell to fifth in the West with their pedestrian 3-2-5 finish. The Timbers, on the other hand, ended the campaign with the opposite record of 5-2-3 as they stormed up to third place.
Prediction: Vancouver 1-3 Portland
The Timbers will pounce quickly on the Caps and never lose control of the match. As a resultm Portland will be heading to the Conference Finals, where they might be facing another Cascadia rival in the Seattle Sounders.