With the Portland Timbers in the middle of the team's first real push for a playoff spot, tomorrow evening's match against the Vancouver Whitecaps takes on an added edge that rivals any the team has experienced before. With a win and a few results going their way the Timbers could clinch a playoff berth as soon as Wednesday.
For the Timbers to clinch their first appearance in the postseason since joining Major League Soccer in addition to a win in Vancouver tomorrow that would put the Timbers at 52 points for the season, the San Jose Earthquakes need to lose or tie on Wednesday against the Colorado Rapids, leaving the Earthquakes with a maximum of 45 points and just two games to play.
UPDATE: Apparently the Timbers could clinch today. Check out how here.
Here is what you need to know about the two teams:
After struggling through a series of injury issues that started during the preseason and have extended through most of the season, the Timbers are finally healthy. At practice today the Timbers had twenty-seven of the team's thirty players taking part.
This return to fitness has seen the Timbers go back to their defense-first philosophy that made them one of the stingiest teams in the league. Only giving up one goal in their last four matches, and that a surprising breakdown against Chivas USA, the Timbers have proven difficult to break down with their current veteran back line of Michael Harrington, Futty Danso, Pa Modou Kah, and Jack Jewsbury (who have an average age of just under 31), even against the youth and speed of Colorado Rapids or the skill and guile of the LA Galaxy.
Up top the Timbers look likely to stick with Maximiliano Urruti who, after only two games as a starter, looks to have fit directly into Not just Caleb Porter's system, but the team as a whole. Urruti's fantastically flicked on goal against LA was just the sort of magic that the Timbers will need to make their mark in Vancouver.
Our expected Timbers line-up: Donovan Ricketts; Michael Harrington, , , Jack Jewsbury; Will Johnson, Diego Chara; Rodney Wallace, Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe; Maximiliano Urruti
The Whitecaps started off the season so well, but in recent weeks they have been unable to find any sort of consistent form, most recently beating the Montreal Impact 3-0 on the road then losing 1-0 to a Real Salt Lake side made up mostly of reserves the following week.
Vancouver's struggles have stemmed largely from the lack of any consistency in their lineups. Martin Rennie, who has been speculated to be coaching for his job in the final weeks of the season, has not used the same line up twice in a row since the end of July. His tinkering has been caused in part by injuries, but at this point in the season Rennie has gotten a reputation as a coach that is going to overthink things.
Perhaps the most consistent part of Vancouver's play this season has been their reliance on starting forward pair Kenny Miller and Camilo Sanvezzo. Together they have accounted for 24 of the Whitecaps' 39 goals on the season. Miller is coming off of a groin injury, but has been a steady contributor for Vancouver this season and will likely be in the lineup if he is even beginning to approach 100%.
Another away victory in Vancouver will not be easy to come by, but as the Timbers round into form to close out the season and Vancouver seesaws between good performances and complete collapses, the odds look good for three points.
Watch it on: ROOT Sports
Kick off: 5:00 pm at BC Place (Vancouver, B.C.)
Portland Timbers: 49 points, 3rd in the Western Conference.
Vancouver Whitecaps: 41 points, 7th in the Western Conference.