This Saturday the Portland Timbers will face their Western Conference and Cascadia rivals the Vancouver Whitecaps for the second time this season, following an eventful 2-2 draw in May. In the very tight Western Conference, these match-ups are especially important and, of course, there is the battle for the Cascadia Cup to be concerned with. Let's take a look at the teams.
The Timbers are currently in the midst of the nearest thing they've had to a slump since the beginning of the season with two losses, one draw, and just a single win in the month of July. They will need this win to stay near the front of the pack in the race for the Supporters' Shield. A win will also help the Timbers get a difficult and important August off to the right start.
One challenge facing the Timbers this weekend is the absence of Diego Chara, who hasn't played or trained, other than a brief evaluation last Friday, since leaving the Philadelphia Union game at halftime. Chara's walking boot has come off, according to Will's training report on Thursday, but there was also the confirmation that he does not expected to play this weekend.
Ben Zemanski will almost certainly fill Chara's spot in the midfield, as he did against San Jose. While Zemanski is probably the most Chara-like player on the Timbers' bench, he lacks some of Chara's ability to make the midfield hellish for the other team and has not had the chance to develop the same rapport with Will Johnson that has made the Timbers' midfield so effective this year.
I'd expect our line-up to look much like the line-up we saw last weekend:
Donovan Ricketts; Jack Jewsbury, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Pa Modou Kah, Michael Harrington; Will Johnson, Diego Valeri, Ben Zemanski; Darlington Nagbe, Frederic Piquionne, Rodney Wallace
The Whitecaps come into the match following a pair of losses--a 1-0 home loss to the Philadelphia Union and a 2-1 road loss to the Galaxy. They were on a good run before that, buoyed largely by the great form of Camillo Sanvezzo, who has scored four goals in his last five games, and currently leads the league with 13 this season. He was also named the MLS Player of the Month for July. He'll be a handful for the Timbers center backs (though we can hope that playing about 70 minutes in the MLS All-Star Game will have tired him out a little) and will look to hit the ground early and often to take advantage of his deadly free kick abilities around the box.
Like the Timbers, Vancouver will also be unable to roll out two of their first choice midfielders, in both cases due to suspension. Jun Marques Davidson is serving a suspension after receiving a red card for fighting in the 8th minute of their game against Philadelphia. Gershon Koffie is also suspended, having received his fifth yellow card last weekend. Those absences should make it easier for Portland to get by without Chara.
With those suspensions in mind, here's my best guess for Vancouver's starting XI:
Brad Knighton; Jordan Harvey, Johnny Leveron, Brad Rusin, Young-Pyo Lee; Matt Watson, Nigel Reo-Coker, Daigo Kobayashi; Camilo Sanvezzo, Kenny Miller, Russell Teibert
It's great to be fighting for other trophies this year, but the Timbers and their fans would still really like to see the Cascadia Cup stay right here, where it belongs. The Timbers are currently at the bottom of the Cascadia Cup standings with two points, but they have a game in hand on both Vancouver and the Seattle Sounders, who each have four points. A win would put the Timbers ahead in the Cascadia Cup race and, with only two games at home, it will really help the Timbers' chances if they can get wins in both of their home games.
This match is so important to the Timbers for a number of reasons--the Cascadia Cup, the Supporters' Shield, breaking out of this little funk they are in. They could really, really use a win.
Watch it on: ROOT SPORTS
Kick off: 8 pm at Jeld-Wen Field
Portland Timbers: 34 points, 3rd in the Western Conference.
Vancouver Whitecaps: 32 points, 5th in the Western Conference.