The Portland Timbers were knocked for a loop by the physical defense of Sporting Kansas City last weekend, but now the side have a big opportunity to bounce back in their first Cascadia Cup match of the year when the Vancouver Whitecaps come to town tomorrow.
While the Timbers remain at the top of the West on points earned, the Whitecaps are working their way up the table after a slow start to the season that saw the side bounced from the CONCACAF Champions League and landing below the red line in MLS. After starting out winless in their first three matches, the Whitecaps have looked better since, bookending a snowy 3-0 loss at Real Salt Lake with wins over the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders.
As Vancouver have come together this year, they have revealed a different look than in years past, relying more on the technique and skill of their attacking players than on the breakneck pace of their wingers. This shift in play has been made apparent in two roster moves that appear to be paying dividends for the side: shipping talented but injury-prone winger Kekuta Manneh to the Columbus Crew, and bringing in veteran forward Fredy Montero.
Manneh has been central to the ‘Caps’ attack in recent seasons and the side fared poorly without him in their previous incarnations. Now, with Montero, a forward who can find space in which to operate and create chances, the technique and service of wide players like Cristian Techera is put front and center for Vancouver.
Dealing with Montero’s movement will be key for the Timbers on Saturday. Liam Ridgewell has been back in training for the Timbers and could make his return at center back alongside Lawrence Olum or Roy Miller, but regardless of who starts along the back line, tracking Montero will be job one.
Further up the pitch, the Timbers will have a big hole to deal with for this match: star forward Fanendo Adi is out after picking up a game suspension from the MLS Disciplinary Committee for an elbow to Sporting defender Ike Opara. In Adi’s place will likely be former Whitecap Darren Mattocks, although Caleb Porter also mentioned Dairon Asprilla as a possibility in his midweek press conference.
Without Adi’s holdup play at the top of the formation, the Timbers will need to take a different approach to Saturday’s match. Fortuitously for the side, Mattocks may well prove to be a very good match up against the Vancouver defense.
The Whitecaps’ center back pairing of Kendall Waston and Tim Parker are both strong defenders, but the pair lack mobility and — at times — can be prone to losing attacking players who are active in their movement. Mattocks, although he has not poured in the goals since joining the Timbers, can provide the sort of movement that can confound this Whitecaps back line, either creating one on one chances for himself with service from Diego Valeri out of the center of the pitch or pulling Waston and Parker out of position as Darlington Nagbe and Sebastian Blanco cut inside.
So far this year, the Timbers have struggled when at less than 100% in their front six, including against Kansas City when David Guzman was playing through a flu. Coming up against the Whitecaps at home, the Timbers will need to show that they can get the full three points even when without one of their key players.
Watch it on: KPTV
When: Saturday, April 22nd at 1:00 p.m. PT
Where: Providence Park in Portland, OR
Portland Timbers: 4-2-1, 1st place in the Western Conference, Lost 1-0 at home to Sporting Kansas City
Vancouver Whitecaps: 2-3-1, 7th place in the Western Conference, Won 2-1 at home against the Seattle Sounders