Cascadia Cup! Epic Rivalry! "Derby" Game (not really)! Sensationalistic media extravagance wordplay! Have we got that all out of the way now? Figured I'd get you guys attuned to the usual jargon we're used to hearing around the media whenever a Cascadia game looms. While tonight's game won't be as intense as a Portland Timbers - Seattle Sounders match, the Whitecaps are equally apart of our little slice of Northwestern heaven.
That's not to downplay the match all. The rivalry shared between Seattle, Vancouver and Portland is certainly worth the attention. Many fans would consider a successful season at just beating both teams. That says quite a lot about the competition and where the fans' priorities lie.
Still, tonight's battle of the expansions is really only about one thing: Cascadia Cup glory. Let's break down each team.
Assessing Our Team
The Timbers broke news yesterday with the trade of defender Jeremy Hall for midfielder Eric Alexander, an up and coming youth that many in Dallas spoke quite highly of. Pundits around the web were calling the Timbers the winner of this trade. So it'll be interesting to see how he slots into the team in the coming weeks. That said, given that Alexander only just joined the team yesterday, I doubt we'll see him tonight.Instead we'll focus on the usual team. As we all know the Timbers put on an abysmal display this past Wednesday. They didn't possess the ball, they weren't able to lock Sporting Kansas City down, and at almost no point did they ever seem to be the dominant side. Even when SKC's own goalkeeper was downed by a thrown projectile were the Timbers not able to capitalize...
The lone bright spot was Bright Dike who got his first Timbers MLS goal in the 81st minute having come on in the 66th minute. When others couldn't find the space Dike was able to squeeze himself into the box and made a fantastic strike into the net. In all honesty, he played how I've always wanted Kenny Cooper to play. Instead of flopping he used his strength and size to muscle his way in where players like Jorge Perlaza could not.
Turning back to the midfield I think the Sal Zizzo for Kalif Alhassan experiment should be over. As great as Zizzo is as a sub he just can't see to get into the game for the full 90 minutes. Likewise, when Alhassan gets subbed in he tends not to do very much. He's much better when he can have a full 80-90 minutes to stretch his legs and get into dangerous positions.
Finally, looking back it'll be nice to get Mike Chabala in the left back position and Lovel Palmer in the right back. Chabala seemed to struggle a bit in the right back position and I think we can all agree he is a more precise left back than Rodney Wallace.
Here's my projected starting line up:
Troy Perkins; Mike Chabala, David Horst, Eric Brunner, Lovel Palmer; Kalif Alhassan, Jack Jewsbury, Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe; Kenny Cooper, Jorge Perlaza
I'd like to see Bright Dike get the starting spot, see what he can do with a full 90, but I don't believe they will happen.
Assessing the Whitecraps
Forgive the crudeness in the title. It just wouldn't seem right to call the Whitecaps mere "enemies." As Cascadian rivals they deserve more than that...
In any case, the Whitecaps are the current bottom dwellers of the league with a scant 18 points across 24 games. For all intents and purposes their regular season is over. I don't believe they have any chance of making the play-offs at this point. This could, in actuality, make them a bit more dangerous as they only have the Cascadia Cup to work towards. Should they win tonight the Timbers will be booted out of the competition, left only to play spoiler to Vancouver later this year.
The big man to look out for tonight is Vancouver's first Designated Player Eric Hassli. With 10 goals so far this season he's doing well, despite also being a leader in red cards. He's also pretty much assured one to be one of the Goal of the Year contenders for his phenomenal strike against the Seattle Sounders. This is a man who will very much be causing problems for the Timbers backline.
Another area for the Timbers to be worried is the Whitecaps defensive backline. I'm not sure if Ja DeMerit is starting tonight, but I can assure you his veteran experience will cause troubles for Cooper and Perlaza. There's a reason why he played in the 2010 World Cup and the EPL... He's not currently listed on the injury list for tonight.
Looking to the midfield, this is the singular area I'm feeling confident about. Vancouver's midfield hasn't been stellar this year due to a series of injuries and general malaise. So it'll be interesting to see how well each's stacks up to one another.
A win tonight for the Timbers would be a big step toward winning the Cascadia Cup trophy which is at least some sort of victory. That said, as I pointed out in my recent article on the Cascadia Cup it's an uphill battle. The Timbers need to win tonight and in Vancouver on October 2nd and the Seattle Sounders need to lose in Vancouver the weekend before. Only then will the Timbers walk out with that trophy. We might not see the Timbers in the play-offs this year, but at least there's still a chance for some hardware.
Should the Timbers lose tonight, however, the Cascadia Cup trophy is out of reach.