With a chance to kleapfrog the Vancouver Whitecaps in the standings lost last weekend, the Portland Timbers will have to do it the old fashioned way: by beating their opponents in the frozen tundra of Cananda. With the Whitecaps occupying the final playoff spot in the west and a slim two-point lead on the Timbers (with a game in hand), a win here for Portland would be huge for their playoff chances.
After looking like they had finally settled into a centerback pairing that could start to work together for the remainder of the season in Norberto Paparatto and Liam Ridgewell, the Timbers will need to change up their back line once again, following Paparatto's suspension for throwing an elbow into the head of the Seattle Sounders' Chad Marshall last Sunday. Although the Timbers' defense gave up four goals to the Sounders, the continued changes in the centerback position this year have been frustraiting and have precluded any sort of chemistry developing along the back line.
In lieu of Paparatto on the back line, the Timbers will likely run out Pa Modou Kah alongside Ridgewell for the first time this year, making for the team's seven hundredth centerback pairing of the season. Kah, who went the full 90' against Guyana's Alpha United in last week's CONCACAF Champions League action, is freshly returned from a long absence due to achilles tendinitis.
Alternatively, the Timbers could consider bringing Danny O'Rourke back into the center of the defense to partner once again with Ridgewell, rather than playing in the outside back position that he has occupied for the last two matches. If the Timbers go this route then look for Alvas Powell, who had a goal and an assist against Alpha United, to slip into the right back spot for O'Rourke.
At the other end of the pitch, the Timbers face a different kind of conundrum; the team has two out and out strikers, Maximiliano Urruti and Fanendo Adi, and both have been producing this year but neither has stood out above the other. Adi is coming into the match looking hot, having just scored a late-game brace in the losing effort against the Sounders, while Urruti's high defensive work rate and skilled interplay provides a different look for the Timbers up top.
Of course, while both players have been getting on the score sheet for the Timbers, they are far from the only ones as the Timbers now have five players who have scored six goals or more: Adi, Urruti, Diego Valeri, Gaston Fernandez, and Will Johnson. The surprising omission from that list continues to be Darlington Nagbe, who is still goalless through twenty-five games this season and has rarely looked like breaking through, despite continuing to work his magic in the midfield.
After a torrid start to the season that saw the team catapult to the top of the standings, the Whitecaps have started their traditional slide down the standings, an annual occurrence since the team joined Major League Soccer.
This time the drop seems to have begun with the loss of team captain Jay Demerit who announced his retirement from soccer after tearing the ligaments in his left ankle back in June, the match after the Timbers' 4-3 loss to the Whitecaps in the teams' first meeting of the season.
Although they lost their defensive linchpin when Demerit went out, it has been the Whitecaps' attack that has suffered, only scoring multiple goals twice since then and getting shut out five times in that same period. Despite having players like Pedro Morales, Darren Mattocks, and Erik Hurtado on the roster, the Vancouver attack simply has not been able to break down their opponents like they did early in the season.
As they try to fix their scoring woes, the Whitecaps have turned to a familiar face, picking up former Seattle and Chivas USA midfielder Mauro Rosales to inject some life into the attack. With Rosales and Morales providing a dual playmaking threat in the midfield, the Whitecaps have a very similar look to the Timbers with Valeri and Fernandez on the field together as one player, Morales, tends to stay central while the other, Rosales, tends to go wide.
Watch it on: KPDX
Kickoff: 7:30 PM PT at BC Place in Vancouver, BC
Portland Timbers: 7-8-10, 6th place in the Western Conference
Vancouver Whitecaps: 7-5-12, 5th place in the Western Conference