A lot has happened in the month since the Timbers last faced off against the Whitecaps, so we got a hold of Jon Szekeres of our sister-blog Eighty-Six Forever to fill us in on what has been going on up in the Great White North.
1. The Whitecaps are 4-4-1 at home this year, but 6-4-1 on the road; are the 'Caps actually stronger away from home?
I'm not sure if 'better' is the right word. The Whitecaps just returned from a 5 match road trip because of the WWC, a road trip many thought would show the true colours of the Whitecaps. Really though, it didn't tell us much. The 'Caps went 3-2, and were pretty inconsistent throughout. Their first match was in Montreal, a poor effort that saw them lose 2-1. They followed that up with a miraculous defensive effort-perhaps the best of their season so far-against the LA Galaxy. Sloppy victories would follow against both New York squads, and the 'Caps finished the trip with a whimper, losing pitifully to the lowly Rapids a few weeks ago.
What I'm trying to say is, it's not like the Whitecaps are playing stellar football away from the confines of BC Place. I'd say they've been pretty inconsistent both home and away, but I would always give the home squad a slight advantage.
2. After putting together a strong three game winning streak, the Whitecaps have stumbled with a pair of losses to the Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City; how can the Whitecaps get out of this mini-rut and what put them there in the first place?
They need both their defense and star offensive players to step up to the plate. The defense should be a position of strength for the Whitecaps; They have one of the best defensive midfielders in the league in Matias Laba, a stud Defensive Back in Kendall Waston, and a good mix of youth and veteran leadership on the wings in Steven Beitashour, Jordan Harvey, and Sam Adekugbe, when he's healthy. Unfortunately, Waston's CB partner has been a problem all season long, with Pa Modou Kah, Diego Rodriguez and Tim Parker all playing minutes there. Rodriguez may be the best option the 'Caps had, but he's been injured and hasn't truly shown what he can offer the Whitecaps. The Backline will have to do without Waston, as he's off to the Gold Cup. It will further test the unproven mixture in the Whitecaps defensive end. Up front, Octavio Rivero isn't scoring, and with Pedro Morales injured Rivero's name needs to be a consistent presence in the boxscore. I will say this about Octavio, when he isn't scoring, he's still always involved and creating chances.
3. After starting the year on fire, Octavio Rivero has cooled off significantly; with Rivero not scoring at his previous clip, who are the goals coming from on this Whitecaps side and who should the Timbers be watching for on Saturday?
Kekuta Manneh has been looking more and more dangerous as the season has progressed, and has three goals in his last five matches. Fellow speedster Darren Mattocks will be away with International duty, so the Timbers don't have to worry about him, but they will need to worry about 'The Bug'. 5'5 Cristian Techera has looked impressive in his first campaign with the Whitecaps, a very creative player in the midfield. Another player that's looked good recently is MLS veteran Mauro Rosales, who will need to keep upping his compete level to help compensate for the loss of Morales.
Bonus Question: Pa Modou Kah had a rough 2014 with the Timbers but was stellar as part of the Timbers' overachieving defensive unit in 2013; which version are we likely to see on Saturday?
Note: It looks like Kah is injured and will likely not be available.
Pa has been... interesting. I would hope some extra motivation from playing against his old team might bring out his best, but if I were a betting man, I'd say the 2014 version.