Portland will host its second Cascadia Cup match of the season on Sunday evening at Providence Park with the Vancouver Whitecaps coming to town for the first time in 2014. The match will be the third in eight days for the Timbers and the second straight Cascadia Cup encounter for the Whitecaps. To help us learn a bit more about this season's Vancouver, we've enlisted SB Nation's Whitecaps blog, Eighty-Six Forever. Mark Dailey provided answers to questions about the first of three games between these two teams:
1. The Whitecaps are unbeaten in the league since April 12 and have just two losses on the season. Give us a starting point for the nice first third of the year, with the Voyageur's Cup results notwithstanding?
The signs have been there since the Whitecaps demolished the New York Red Bulls 4-1 at BC Place on opening day. The Caps then had a pretty tough month of April which saw them play some difficult Western Conference rivals including the Colorado Rapids, LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake. Even though the Whitecaps managed two points against the Galaxy and RSL I think they realized that they are now they are in a much better position to compete against clubs that they have historically struggled against. Sebastián Fernández’s last minute strike away against Real Salt Lake to earn a draw was huge for their confidence and they are W2-L0-D1 since that match. Controversial penalty aside Vancouver really should have taken all three points from last weekend’s match against the Sounders, but could not find the back of the net in the opening fifteen minutes when they totally dominated Seattle and came close to scoring several times.
2. Erik Hurtado is local for us in Portland, having grown up in Beaverton, playing under Timbers legend John Bain and then with the Timbers U23s. Ignoring his hair for the moment, how has he transitioned from a complimentary player to a more important attacking option?
Well, Whitecaps fans cannot ignore Erik’s hair at the moment, because we honestly believe that’s where E-Money is getting his mojo! All joking aside though, we know that Erik has been working extremely hard in training to improve and we’re all starting to see the results of all the hard work that he and the coaching staff have invested to improve his game. Erik is popular with the fans and we’re really happy to see how he’s developing because this is a completely different Erik Hurtado compared to the one we saw in his rookie season in 2013. With the departure of Futboldemort (a.k.a. Camilo) the Caps are scoring by committee this season and although Erik only has two goals at the moment a couple more would put him in the lead for team scoring.
3. Portland has finally gotten some nice performances from Maximiliano Urruti and Fanendo Adi in recent weeks. We all know about the improving front line for the Whitecaps but how will the defense be able to handle a Timbers attack that has hit its stride?
The Whitecaps backline is anchored by the veteran CB’s Andy O’Brien and Jay DeMerit with Jordan Harvey at LB and (usually) Steve Beitashour at RB. With Beitashour away with the Iranian Men’s National Team and rookie Ethan Sampson recovering from injury Nigel Reo-Coker will start at RB. Reo-Coker provides excellent cover at the RB position having played there at various times in his career. The back four are playing behind Matías Laba and Gershon Koffie, who have paired up in midfield in recent weeks. They are a formidable duo and Laba has become one of the best players for the Whitecaps this season. Urruti and Adi will definitely give them a challenge, but hopefully Vancouver’s defense has learned from the two matches against the LA Galaxy when, despite having played fairly well, momentary lapses resulted in conceding goals at very crucial times in the game. In fact, my concern at the moment is at the other end of the pitch because despite all the possession and creation of quality scoring chances they are not making the most of all the quality build-up play and turning those chances into goals.