Much has been made about the Vancouver Whitecaps relishing the opportunity to spoil the Portland Timbers' playoff chances. The Whitecaps' grand entrance into BC Place has also garnered some attention, as if their newly renovated giant sea anemone next to False Creek will solve the myriad problems that persist throughout their organization.
The fact is, the Timbers have traveled up to Vancouver to play the MLS' worst team. They should leave with three points. Anything less would quite accurately be viewed as a massive failure and would shatter Portland's playoff hopes.
The good news is that Saturday's results were mostly beneficial to Portland's hopes. Now the boys in green gotta do their part.Assessing Our Team
The big handicap for Portland is the loss of Kalif Alhassan and Jack Jewsbury. Coach John Spencer coyly refused to tip his hand on Saturday, but judging from his hints earlier in the week, Eric Alexander is expected to see his second start in as many matches and James Marcelin his first start since August 6.
When Marcelin plays well he can be dazzling, but he can be awfully frustrating to watch when he's off his game. He will have his hands full denying opportunities to the likes of Davide Chiumiento. Meanwhile, Eric Alexander has apparently impressed Coach Spencer, but Timbers fans have yet to see much production from him in his appearances with the first team.
The rest of the team will be healthy after seven days of rest and will arrive in Vancouver on Saturday afternoon without missing a day of practice. Darlington Nagbe and Kenny Cooper will look to rekindle their explosiveness from the New England match. Sal Zizzo and Diego Chara, both of whom have looked a bit winded at times, will have full use of their blazing speed again. And judging from the New York game, Spencer won't hesitate to make a halftime substitution if the first half doesn't go well.
Projected Lineup: Troy Perkins (c), Mike Chabala, David Horst, Eric Brunner, Lovel Palmer, Eric Alexander, James Marcelin, Diego Chara, Sal Zizzo, Kenny Cooper, Darlington Nagbe.
Assessing the Enemy
After stunning New York with a draw at Red Bull Arena earlier in the month, the Whitecaps have been utterly demoralized by the top two teams in the MLS. Interim Coach Tommy Soehn called out his star central defenders in the press this week, using language Canadians have been calling "harsh":
I've asked a lot now of Rochat and DeMerit to solve things before they become problems. I don't think we're doing a good enough job of that ... If we don't solve it, then we need to find someone who can.
Soehn backtracked on that last part, but the message was still pretty clear. The Whitecaps defence is likely to come out ready to battle with Nagbe and Cooper, so the Timbers will have to hope Zizzo and Alexander can apply enough pressure on the wings to draw them out.
Meanwhile, Eric Hassli, Davide Chiumiento, and company continue to be dangerous and dynamic on the attack but are also known for squandering good chances with poor finishing. Perhaps a new playing surface will change that.
Projected Lineup: Joe Cannon, Jordan Harvey, Jay DeMerit (c), Alain Rochat, Jonathan Leathers, Peter Vagenas, Gershon Koffie, Davide Chiumiento, Shea Salinas, Eric Hassli, Camilo Sanvezzo
The Timbers have no business losing or even drawing this game. Yes, the Timbers have just the one road win on the season so far; all the more reason they need to win this one. This is a must-win, a should-win, a no-excuses-for-losing, match. I don't know how many other ways I can say it.
Today's match kicks off at 1:30pm on ROOT SPORTS.