KeyBank Match-up of the Match: Timbers' ability to define result vs. Whitecaps' ability to play spoiler

Timbers' ability to control game challenged in new stadium

There has been much discussion this week in the lead up to the Cascadia rivalry match between the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps regarding card suspensions, the accompanying needed midfield changes and the challenges of Portland’s ability to win on the road (1:30 pm PT, ROOT SPORTS750 AM The GameLa Pantera 940 AM).

Last week’s hard luck 2-0 loss against the New York Red Bulls in Harrison, NJ turned on a play that had Kalif Alhassan called for a handball in the box as well as pick up a red card. With him sitting out this match due to the league mandated one game suspension as well as a one game suspension for captain Jack Jewsbury due to yellow card accumulation, head coach John Spencer was asked often this week about what his plans are in the midfield.

“We’ve got good players that will come in and play for them,” he said. “Eric Alexander will be contention to play. James Marcelin will be in contention to play. The guys that are here we believe are good players and that’s why you have a squad of players that if you have injuries and suspensions then someone will come in and play. So I don’t have any worries about it.”

There’s also been talk about the Timbers’ road record. With only one away win for Portland all season, it could be said that the road north to Vancouver will be difficult. Portland also finds themselves being welcomed by a Whitecaps side that are opening their glittering newly renovated BC Place which will be filled with a capacity crowd eager for a win in their new pitch.

Given construction timing, however, the Whitecaps have barely had a chance to train on the new pitch, let alone get used to the building. Does the new BC Place give Vancouver the regularly assumed home field advantage? Hard to say.

What Sunday really comes down to for Portland is the playoff implications. Spencer sums it up succinctly, “The one thing that [Vancouver will] be playing for is two expansion teams meeting each other,” Spencer said. “One has a chance of making the playoffs and one team has a chance of stopping the other team from making the playoffs.”

And that brings us to Robbie Earle’s KeyBank Match-up of the Match:

 

Robbie Earle's
KeyBank Match-up of the Match
Ability To Define Our Own Result vs. Ability To Play Spoiler
 

 

With only 4 wins on the season and being the only MLS team to be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs this season, it is safe to say that this year has been a trying one for Vancouver. However, the team clearly has skilled players and weapons. Jay DeMerit is an EPL and World Cup experienced backliner, Eric Hassli is a dangerous and strong attacking force, and Camilo is a slippery and daring goalscorer. Vancouver can use this new stadium opening almost as a late-season reboot--call it Whitecaps 2011 2.0-- and they’ll be gunning accordingly.

And yet, the team has not truly clicked together in the same way the Timbers have towards the end of the season. There is a large sense of collective purpose that Spencer has injected into the Portland side and, along with a growing evolution of match maturity, so too has a growing ability to gain positive results and control their own definition of a game.

Yes, BC Place will be packed. But given the raucous crowds at JELD-WEN Field this year, that should be of little concern to the Timbers. What their focus will be on is playing their game and defining their own desired result. Almost putting aside the storied Cascadia rivalry for a moment and staying centered on the focused need for three points will not only help vault the Timbers into a better potential playoff position, but also provide an important turning point for a first year MLS club.