There may not be a better time to play the Vancouver Whitecaps than this Saturday. Fresh from their devastating Canadian Championship defeat to the worst team in the world, and after weeks of overlap between the Championship and continued MLS play, the Whitecaps are going to be drained, emotionally and physically.
Moreover, while the turnaround Vancouver has created from their disastrous 2011 campaign has been one of MLS' biggest surprises this year, in many ways they are still the same underachieving expansion team they were last year. For all their success so far in 2012, the Whitecaps have a negative goal differential, with only scored 12 goals in 11 contests, just one more than the Timbers. In games when Vancouver concedes a goal, they are 1-3-1.
Still, the depth in their attack-oriented 4-3-3 lineup will make them a tough nut to crack.
Breaking Down the Vancouver Attack
Martin Rennie has had the benefit of using an excessive attacking depth, and he has been rewarded with superb play from Omar Salgado on the left wing. At 6'4" and 190 pounds (or 86 kg or 13.6 stones or whatever measurement they use in Canada), he's a beast for any RB to deal with. Add his speed to the equation, and Salgado would be one of the best strikers in the league, if not for his youthful final touch.
Paired with Salgado on the opposite wing is Sebastien Le Toux, who is one of a handful of Whitecaps to have played all 990 MLS minutes so far, recording a team-leading three goals and an assist in that span. His size and speed also help him get around opposing defenders, but Le Toux's touch is quite a bit better than Salgado's.
The third striker will likely be Darren Mattocks, the Whitecaps' 2012 SuperDraft pick. His physical style has caused problems for opposing CBs, but he has yet to produce much beyond a yellow card and a few bad misses from point blank range.
The Vancouver midfield features Jun Marques Davidson in the DM role, with Davide Chiumiento and Gershon Koffie in the playmaking roles at LM and RM respectively. Chiumiento leads the team in assists with three and has loads of skill with the ball at his feet. Though he lines up on the left side of the midfield, he likes to drift inward and will likely match up against Lovel Palmer while the Timbers' RB is occupied with Salgado.
The Timbers' fullbacks will get as tough a workout against Vancouver as they've had all season, with Le Toux and Salgado running them ragged. In addition, Jordan Harvey and Lee Young-Pyo both like to get forward to augment that already robust attack, and it will be up to the Timbers' midfield wingers to track them diligently and keep them busy on their own end.
And as always, the Timbers defense will need to stay vigilant for the full 90 minutes, with Eric Hassli and Camilo Sanvezzo providing additional attacking options late in the match.
Breaking Down the Vancouver Defense
On the defensive side, Martin Rennie has been reluctant to use a different lineup ever since their embarrassing 4-1 defeat to the New England Revolution. In that match he rested Jay DeMerit and Martin Bonjour and moved Alain Rochat into the CB role, using Jordan Harvey on the wing. The improvised setup failed to stop Lee Nguyen's inward runs, while also being ineffective in the air against Saer Sene. In short, it was a near complete disaster.
Jordan Harvey should start at left back in place of Rochat, who suffered an ankle tweak in Wednesday game. Lee Young-Pyo will start on the right, with Demerit and Bonjour in the middle. This is a solid back line, difficult to beat in the air and on set pieces. The Caps are 2-2-1 (7 points) in five games with that defensive set up, allowing six goals in that span. (When Rochat replaces Harvey they're even better, 3-0-1 with only three goals allowed in five games. Dodged a bullet there.)
Portland scored two set piece goals in their win against the Chicago Fire, but they'll have to look for other ways to score this time. The Timbers will need to continue to use runs from the wings and the fullbacks to stretch the Vancouver defense and open up pockets of space in which to create. If they can find their touch and their timing, Rodney Wallace and Franck Songo'o (or whoever starts in their places) should be able to find the space to score and/or feed Kris Boyd from outside the penalty area.
If the Timbers can't find that finishing quality, they'll have missed a huge opportunity to get ahead of the pack in the Cascadia Cup.