The Portland Timbers take on the Vancouver Whitecaps today in the final match of the 2014 Rose City Invitational and the Timbers' final match of the 2014 preseason. The Whitecaps have already sewn up the invitational with wins over Portmore United and the San Jose Earthquakes, so this match is for little more than professional pride and the rivalry that exists between the two teams.
In Sunday's match against the Earthquakes, the Timbers had the ball for what felt like 90% of the match, but they were unable to put the ball into the back of their opponent's net despite taking seventeen shots over the course of the game. That lack of finishing was something that the team keyed on this week, with finishing drills a large part of practice for the Timbers.
The continued recovery of Diego Valeri could play a part in unlocking the potential of the Timbers offense. The Maestro, now with some full practices under his belt, could play a greater role in today's match after only playing 30' on Sunday. If Valeri does start, it seems likely that Kalif Alhassan will be forced out of the eleven and that Gaston Fernandez will start the game in one of the Timbers' forward slots alongside Darlington Nagbe, and Maximilliano Urruti.
Will Johnson, who missed Sunday's game because of flu-like symptoms, is back and ready to play as of yesterday's practice session. He will bump Ben Zemanski back out of the midfield despite a commendable performance against San Jose.
The rest of the Timbers' starting line-up seems to have settled at this point, leaving the bench as the biggest remaining question for the Timbers. The duel between Rauwshan McKenzie and Futty Danso for the third centerback slot did not have a definitive winner in Wednesday's match against Portmore, and Alvas Powell, who was on the bench on Sunday, is away with the Jamaican National Team.
The last time we saw the Vancouver Whitecaps on these pages, they had just been through a messy break-up with 2013 Golden Boot winner Camilo Sanvezzo as he jumped ship to play for Mexico's Querétaro. Now, however, word has come out that the player at Querétaro have not been paid in the last month and that fraud charges have been brought against the team's owner. Schadenfreude abounds.
Still, even without their former striker, the Whitecaps have been on top form in the Rose City Invitational, starting out the tournament on Sunday by demolishing Portmore 5-1 after the Jamaicans lost their keeper to a red card in the early going, then beating San Jose 2-0 in a solid performance on Wednesday. Since then the Whitecaps have received further reinforcements, announcing the signing of a new designated player, Matias Laba. Picked up from Toronto FC in a trade made necessary by the Eastern Conference club's spending in the off-season, Laba is a defensive midfielder who excels at disrupting and distributing in the center of the pitch. In his only season with Toronto, Laba was somewhat derailed by injuries, but still managed to be the team's best player on the year.
The Whitecaps have shown themselves to be a team that is dangerous on the attack so far in this tournament, with a variety of attacking players both in the center of the pitch and out wide. If the Timbers want to contain them, they will need to hold possession effectively and be wary of counter attacks. Vancouver played beneath their talent level for much of last season and underestimating the potency of the side would be a mistake.
Watch it on: Streaming on Timbers.com
Kick off: 5:00 pm at Providence Park
Portland Timbers Preseason Record: 2-1-3
Vancouver Whitecaps Preseason Record: 4-2-0