KeyBank Scouting Report: Portland Timbers at Vancouver Whitecaps - May 18, 2013

The Timbers hit the road for the second Cascadia Cup match of 2013

Scouting Report Vancouver 5.17.13

Photo Credit: 
(USA Today Sports Images)

The Portland Timbers travel up the Northwest coast to take on Cascadia rivals Vancouver Whitecaps for the first time this season on Saturday evening (7:30pm PT ROOT SPORTS, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940). Find out everything you need to know about the opposition.

A brief history…
Brought into MLS at the same time as the Portland Timbers in 2009, the Vancouver Whitecaps were driven by a four-membership ownership, consisting of Greg Kerfoot, Steve Luczo, Jeff Mallett, and NBA star Steve Nash.

After starting out playing at the temporary stadium Empire Field, the club moved to the impressive BC Place, where they regularly attract a passionate supporter base. Much like the Timbers, the team opted to maintain a connection with their past by keeping the name ‘Whitecaps’, which had been used by previous teams going back to USL and NASL eras.

How did they fare last season?
Reaching the MLS Playoffs was considered a big achievement for Vancouver, who started the season well before wobbling late on – including a 1-0 defeat at home to the Timbers to concede the Cascadia Cup. They fell at the first hurdle in the playoffs though when they came up against eventual winners LA Galaxy.

One of the big problems that Vancouver had was scoring goals with rookie Darren Mattocks hitting seven to become their top marksman. The trade bringing Sebastien Le Toux in didn’t really work, while Designated Player Kenny Miller did not arrive until July and needed time to adapt to MLS. It was a good, if somewhat frustrating season overall.

Who have they brought in for this season?
Head coach Martin Rennie made space on his roster by allowing Martin Bonjour, Barry Robson, John Thorrington, Paulo Jr and Atiba Harris to move on. And that allowed him to bring in the likes of Japanese playmaker Daigo Kobayashi, Honduran defender Johnny Leveron, English midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker, and forward Corey Hertzog.

Vancouver were also clever in the MLS SuperDraft as they used the No. 4 and No. 5 picks to select Kekuta Manneh and Erik Hurtado – two highly-rated young players. The result of those pick-ups gives Rennie a lot more options, especially in attacking areas, more speed added to his roster, and a freshness that they were lacking last term.

How have they done so far this year?
A return of three victories from 10 games isn’t exactly ideal, but last week’s 3-1 triumph over champions LA Galaxy gave Vancouver hope that they had finally flicked the switch to turn their season on.

Not since the opening day win over Toronto FC has Vancouver recorded a clean sheet, which is quite worrying especially with captain Jay DeMerit out injured. Up front, their lack of firepower has again become an issue with four different players on two goals each, while only one player – Gershon Koffie – has recorded two assists.

KEY MEN

Head coach: Martin Rennie
Having cut his teeth in the USL with Cleveland City Stars and Carolina RailHawks, Rennie got his shot in MLS after Vancouver turned to him following Teitur Thordarson’s departure. Still only 37, the Scot is seen as one of the brightest young coaches in the league with a willingness to play attacking soccer and not afraid to turn to young players in big games.

Star Player: Nigel Reo-Coker
Following a long career in England, where he played for Wimbledon, West Ham United, Aston Villa, Bolton Wanderers and Ipswich Town, this combative midfielder turned down several offers to link up with Vancouver. And they are certainly grateful for that because his ball-winning ability, drive to push his teammates forward, and hunger to win have been huge additions.

One To Watch: Russell Teibert
The Timbers are bound to keep a close eye on this Ontario, Canada native after he scored two goals in last week’s victory over LA Galaxy. One of only two Homegrown Players in Rennie’s squad, the 20-year-old midfielder is being tipped for a bright future in the game. But he is not waiting around to make an impact as his recent performances have made him a potential starter.

TACTICAL VIEW

What can the Timbers expect?
One of the things that Timbers coach Caleb Porter will be aware of is that Vancouver was involved in midweek action – travelling to Montreal to take on the Impact in a Canadian Championship game. That could result in the opposition tiring in the second half, especially considering that they played a lot of regular starters in the game.

Vancouver, though, will try to stick with their usual game plan of playing on the front foot and attacking at speed. With three players occupying the central midfield area, they lack support for the lone striker – most likely to be Mattocks – and their style of attacking can become quite easy to predict, as they do not mix it up enough.

Where are they most vulnerable?
Keeping possession of the could be a challenge for Vancouver. If they continually surrender the ball too easily, then it forces them on the defensive and allows the opposition to dictate the tempo of a game. Against LA Galaxy, they only had 39.4 percent possession and that fell to 33.7 percent in the tie with Montreal on Wednesday evening.

Even though they have often used an extra man in midfield, it has proved to be largely ineffective when they are coughing up possession. That, in turn, puts a lot of pressure on a backline missing the leadership skills of DeMerit. They tend to sink back to just in front of their own penalty area, thus inviting the opposition to shoot on goal.

Who are their main threats?
If they can click, Vancouver is an exciting team to watch and a difficult opponent to handle. Right now, though, that all depends on who is fit to play. With fitness concerns hanging over Kobayashi, Miller and Camilo, they are without three key difference makers and that is bound to weaken any team in the league.

However, discounting the impact that Reo-Coker, Koffie and Teibert can have from midfield would be very foolish, while Mattocks is one of the fastest strikers in MLS. Vancouver will try to use set pieces to their advantage with Andy O’Brien, Leveron and Alain Rochat all big aerial threats, but without Camilo and Kobayashi on the pitch, they may not be as precise with their service.

Previous Meetings in MLS

2011: August 20 – Portland Timbers 2-1 Vancouver Whitecaps
2011: October 2 – Vancouver Whitecaps 0-1 Portland Timbers
2012: May 26 – Portland Timbers 1-1 Vancouver Whitecaps
2012: August 25 – Portland Timbers 2-1 Vancouver Whitecaps
2012: October 21 – Vancouver Whitecaps 0-1 Portland Timbers

Record vs Vancouver Whitecaps: 4-0-1

Did You Know?
The first coaching position that Vancouver’s Martin Rennie held was with Cascade Surge in Salem, Oregon in 2005, where they enjoyed their most successful period during his watch.

Gareth Maher is a contributing writer to PortlandTimbers.com. He is a frequent writer about soccer for the Irish Daily Mail in Dublin as well as ESPNFC.com.