For the third time this season, the Portland Timbers take on their Cascadia rivals Vancouver Whitecaps as they travel up the Pacific Northwest coast on Sunday (5pm on ROOT SPORTS, 750 The Game / La Pantera 940). Here is the lowdown on the opposition.
What can the Timbers expect?
Judging from their two previous encounters with Vancouver, the Timbers will be expecting a physical test. Sometimes the beautiful game can turn into an ugly battle and Caleb Porter’s men must be prepared for that, but should not underestimate the attacking quality that their opponents possess especially when playing at home, where they have scored 27 times this season.
Where are they most vulnerable?
Vancouver have struggled defensively this season with 39 goals conceded in 30 games and their biggest issue has been consistency in selection. For large chunks of the season they have been without Jay DeMerit and Andy O’Brien – the two most experienced centerbacks on their roster – and that has resulted in them plugging gaps with Carlyle Mitchell and Brad Rusin forced to step in.
Who are their main threats?
If fit, and playing his best, then forward Camilo Sanvezzo is amongst the most lethal in MLS right now. The Brazilian has scored 16 goals – third highest in the league – and his movement is so clever that he often leaves opposition defenders in a spin. Alongside him, Kenny Miller is an excellent frontman, while Kekuta Manneh, Daigo Kobayashi and Darren Mattocks provide an impressive supporting cast.
While they are a very strong attacking team and pose a serious threat at set-pieces through Camilo’s delivery and DeMerit’s power, it is in midfield where Vancouver are most dangerous. Nigel Reo-Coker leads by example with his crunching tackles and drives forward, while Jun Marques Davidson, Russell Teibert and Gershon Koffie have all been superb this year and provide them with a real cutting edge when attacking and covering back.
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: Jay DeMerit
A latecomer to the professional game, DeMerit certainly made up for lost time by going from non-league football in England all the way to the Premier League. The hard-hitting centerback scored the winning goal in the Championship playoff final and represented the United States at the 2010 World Cup. He is Vancouver’s captain and leader – both on and the off the field.
One To Watch: Jordan Harvey
He may not be one to make many headlines, but this 29-year-old is a key player for Vancouver. Able to play anywhere in defense or midfield, he uses his speed, technique and strength well to contribute to attacks and is tough to beat in defensive situations when operating at outside back. With four goals scored this season, expect to see him getting forward down the flanks.
What happened when the teams last met?
Having played out a 2-2 tie at BC Place back in May, the Timbers had home advantage for the rematch on August 3, but that game also ended with the points being shared. The 1-1 draw saw Jordan Harvey cancel out Ryan Johnson’s opener in what was a fiery Cascadia clash, where six different players picked up yellow cards and 30 fouls were committed overall.
What did the Timbers learn from that game?
Scrappy is the word that comes to mind to describe this game as the physical stakes were raised high and the Timbers’ fluid passing rhythm was constantly disrupted. When a team turns up simply to stop the opposition from playing – as appeared to be the case in this game – then the hosts would find a way to adapt and then get around the obstacles that fall in their way.
The big lesson for the Timbers was how to keep going even when attacking moves break down. The only way through a stubborn defense is to keep applying pressure, which Porter’s men did do with 13 shots unloaded at goal. They may have only scored once, but the positive approach would serve them well in future games when other teams tried to stop them by any means necessary.
What did the coaches have to say at the time?
Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter
“We’re obviously disappointed in the draw. For me, the fact that we are so disappointed says everything about how far we’ve come as a club, and the culture we’ve created, and the standards that we have, that literally we take the field with this group of guys and we expect to win every game we play.”
Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie
“We were missing seven players that would normally start, so we were very depleted, but the players didn’t use that as an excuse. They dug in and they played well.”
How has Vancouver fared since then?
Vancouver’s form has dipped since last playing the Timbers as they have only celebrated two victories (over San Jose Earthquakes and Montreal Impact) in their eight games. The four defeats that they suffered saw them ship seven goals and drop down to seventh place in the Western Conference – leaving them with a lot of work to do to make the playoffs.
Did You Know?
Vancouver striker Kenny Miller is part of a select group of players to have played for both Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers – bitter Scottish rivals.
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.