The Portland Timbers return to JELD-WEN Field on Saturday evening to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps for the second time this season (8pm PT, ROOT SPORTS, 750 The Game / La Pantera 940). Here is the all of the information you need to know on the visitors.
What can the Timbers expect?
A team built to play attacking football, Vancouver firmly holds the belief that they can score against any opponent in the league and that keeps them in the hunt for results right to the end of games. Similar in many ways to the Timbers, they are exciting to watch and difficult to defend against, and they're improving all the time.
Where are they most vulnerable?
With captain Jay DeMerit still out injured, Vancouver is without its best defender and on-field commander. Any team would struggle without such an influential player, so it is hardly surprising that Vancouver has only kept three clean sheets this season. In his absence, they have tried to patch things up in central defense with Brad Rusin stepping up, but ex-Republic of Ireland international Andy O’Brien has had his own injury problems.
Apart from key personnel missing, the team’s defense has struggled due to a lack of cover in front of them. The 4-3-3 system that they prefer and how they play means that they often commit too many players forward and leave gaps behind them. While Nigel Reo-Coker is one of the best defensive midfielders in the league, he has a tendency to join attacks and he can be caught out especially with Jun Marques Davidson, who is suspended, not there to cover for him.
Who are their main threats?
In the last couple of months, the two key players for Vancouver has been Camilo and Kenny Miller as their movement, link play, and, most importantly, goals, have lifted Martin Rennie’s team. There are several young forwards, like Darren Mattocks, Corey Hertzog, and Kekuta Manneh, who have added pace and trickery when used, but the main men have undoubtedly been Camilo and Miller. However, Mattocks is out indefinitely following knee surgery and questions remain about Miller's availability for Saturday.
Regardless of who starts, in order for the forwards to do their thing, Vancouver requires its midfield department to register noteworthy shifts. Acting as the heartbeat is former West Ham United man Reo-Coker, who breaks up opposition attacks and turns defense into attack. On the creative side, Russell Teibert, and Daigo Kobayashi have all been excellent. Then from outside back, both Young-Pyo Lee and Jordan Harvey continually make runs forward.
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: Camilo Sanvezzo
A cut above many players in the league this season, Camilo has really turned on the style for Vancouver and emerged as a difference maker in the team. Leading the league in scoring with 13 goals, the Brazilian has also taken more shots on goal (75) than anyone else and has proved to be a nightmare for opposition defenders to deal with. When the 2013 MLS All-Star is on form, few players know how to deal with him.
One To Watch: Kekuta Manneh
Originally from The Gambia, he moved to the United States where an American family adopted him so that he could continue his footballing education. Clearly a stand-out player as a teenager, the fleet-footed attacker caught the attention of several clubs in Europe before eventually signing a Generation Adidas contract with MLS and being selected by Vancouver in this year’s MLS SuperDraft.
What happened when the teams last met?
The first meeting of the season between the Cascadia Cup rivals finished in a 2-2 tie back in May. It was a game that had a little bit of everything with four goals, four yellow cards, one red card (for Futty Danso) and plenty of crunching tackles. After Camilo opened the scoring, Will Johnson hit back with a penalty, then Gershon Koffie drilled in, before Danso was dismissed, but Jose Valencia rescued a point with a goal on 84 minutes.
What did the Timbers learn from that game?
The Timbers got an insight into Vancouver’s frenetic style of play, which sees them stream forward in numbers as often as possible and has several players filling in numerous positions. In many ways, Vancouver can be very unpredictable, but their instinct to counterattack upon the sniff of any opening leaves them vulnerable in other areas – something that Caleb Porter will surely have taken notice of in their last meeting.
The game also showed how dangerous Vancouver is on those attacks with two goals coming from 15 shots on goal and forcing Donovan Ricketts into two big saves. They have several players who can transition from defense to attack with one touch, which is why they are such a threat on the break. But a lot of it comes down to how tough their midfield is at winning the ball back and the 16 fouls committed against the Timbers shows they are a no-nonsense team.
What did the coaches have to say at the time?
Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter
“It was an exciting game, obviously, four goals in the match. We had most of the flow and most of the possession, but they finished their chances well. We’re happy to get a point. Especially considering we went down a man and down a goal and for us to pull that point out is a real positive.”
Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie
“It was a really exciting game; a derby game with a lot of passion, fantastic support from the crowd, and it was a great atmosphere. Our response was excellent and I thought their red card was a bit hard. Most of the things regarding [the game] were positive.”
How has Vancouver fared since then?
In the 10 games that they have played since facing the Timbers, Vancouver has won six times, tied once, and lost three times. Rennie’s team had gone on a six-game unbeaten run before losing to both LA Galaxy and Philadelphia Union, which leaves them sitting fifth in the Western Conference on 32 points (two behind the Timbers) from the same number of games played (21).
Did You Know?
Vancouver’s veteran goalkeeper Joe Cannon has twice won the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2002 and 2004 during his time with the San Jose Earthquakes and Colorado Rapids respectively.
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.