Vancouver Whitecaps 2012
(Getty Images)

Strong's Notes: Be Up For The Fight

Coming off one of the more surreal games in their still-brief MLS history, the Portland Timbers return home Saturday and try to maintain control of the Cascadia Cup against the Vancouver Whitecaps (7:30pm PT, ROOT SPORTS750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940 Presented by KeyBank). The 72nd all-time professional meeting between the teams—and their predecessors—sees a matchup of two teams with wavering levels of confidence, and different levels of ambition, than when they last played back in May; but, the intensity of the occasion, and the meaning of three points, hasn’t changed.

Fading Momentum
After finishing last season tied for the worst record in the league, and welcoming a new coach with no prior top-level experience, the Whitecaps were one of the best teams starting in 2012: four straight shutouts, a 5-2-2 record after the first two months, and ambitions of the top of the Western Conference. However, as the summer has worn on, so has the Whitecaps’ form; they’ve lost their last two games, their last four away from home, and are just 3-6-3 dating back to mid-June.

That stretch has included a number of personnel moves that makes Vancouver’s attacking force, at least, look quite different than when the Timbers last saw them in May. Gone are Eric Hassli and Sebastian Le Toux—traded to Toronto and New York respectively—and Davide Chiumiento was sold to FC Zurich in his native Switzerland. That’s far from saying there’s nothing to worry about on Saturday: Camilo’s individual brilliance remains, winger Atiba Harris appears to have worked himself back after two years worth of knee injuries, and Dane Richards—who gave the Timbers all kind of problems with New York last year—and Darron Mattocks—who scored the equalizer in Portland this season—give the Whitecaps a dangerous amount of speed up front.

Then there’s the two Scottish internationals: Barry Robson—having spent time at Celtic and Middlesborough most recently—and Kenny Miller—who’s played for both Celtic and Rangers in his career, and is a friend of Kris Boyd—joined up during the summer transfer window to give Vancouver an extra dose of experience, quality, and bite.

Be Up For the Fight
Just exactly what that amount of bite is has been a big talking point around this team in recent weeks. What’s undisputed is that Vancouver leads MLS in fouls committed, and in yellow cards received; What’s up for debate is whether that makes them a dirty team, or just one that plays physical, and has perhaps fallen afoul of a certain amount of diving and gamesmanship from recent opponents. Either way, when you add up a team that’s not afraid to mix it up, that’s motivated to turn around a recent disappointing spell, and a charged rivalry atmosphere, keeping one’s head might be a key to Saturday’s game.

On, and since we’re on the subject, for what it’s worth: Saturday’s ref, David Gantar, has given out seven red cards and an average of 27 fouls in his 12 previous MLS assignments.

More Fireworks—or Lightening?
Whatever happens on Saturday, it would be fair to assume it’ll be explosive; even though the earlier game this season was a stalemate on the field, you might recall a bit of meteorological excitement around halftime. This time around, however, you have two teams desperate to get a win, with a lot of pent up emotion and frustration from recent weeks waiting to explode in a fury of goals, fouls, and shouting. Luckily, over 20,000 fans—including many from Vancouver—will be providing the backing vocals for a game that might just end up being memorable for both sets of fans; whether that be in a good or bad way depends on which team can overcome their recent struggles and break through with a much-needed win.