The Story So Far
The Portland Timbers are coming off another win at home, against Real Salt Lake, handily besting them 3-0. In that win, the Timbers also clinched a spot in the 2018 MLS Cup playoffs — though it’s yet to be determined what seed they’ll have. It sounds like it will likely be Timbers facing Seattle at home or up in the fishing village.
The Vancouver Whitecaps are coming off a disappointing 2-2 draw, which did not help their playoffs hopes, and they are now officially eliminated from contention. The Whitecaps are hoping to end the season on a high note and send Alphonso Davies off to Germany with a last-day win. Meanwhile, the Timbers are coming in red hot and looking to improve their seeding in the playoffs.
A few things have changed since the Whitecaps came into Providence Park back on August 11: The biggest one is that head coach Carl Robinson was sacked and has been replaced in the interim with the academy director, Craig Dalrymple, who has been on the job since the September 25. The team hasn’t improved much since Dalrymple took over the coaching job; I think that says something more about the team, instead of the manager.
As far as players go, as I mentioned above, Alphonso Davies is headed to Bayern Munich after he finishes his season with the Caps, though he can’t play in Germany until the winter transfer window opens. It’s also been in the news that captain Kendall Waston wants out of Vancouver. This isn’t just some rumor: At training on Wednesday, he told the gathered press, “I want to leave.” Apparently he hasn’t been happy with management and has been posting cryptic messages on social media as well.
What to Watch for
Vancouver Whitecaps (12-13-8, 44 pts)
When the Whitecaps took the field against LAFC, they deployed a 4-1-4-1 that seemed to work for them; something of a change up from their usual 4-4-2. Will we see that formation on Sunday? Possible. New coach, new formation — even if he’s just keeping the seat warm. It had some limited success against LAFC.
Heading up their attack as the lone striker is, of course, Kei Kamara. He’s collected 12 goals this season, which is good for the team lead. How woeful has the Caps offense been? Well, Kamara is the only player on the team with double digits; the next closest is Cristian Techera with eight. Sometimes I wonder if Kamara has a teleporter, because one minute he’s not there and then — boom! — he’s in space and on goal.
Sunday’s match is supposed to be a going away party for phenom Alphonso Davies; he’s got speed, intelligence and a nose for goal. Whoever gets to cover him is going to have their hands full. He’s third on the team in goals, with six, which also ties him with Yordy Reyna. This kid is a lot of fun to watch, and I think he’s going to do well once he gets to Germany, though it’ll be a long road to the Bayern first team.
As far as injuries go, they have two: Marvin Emnes (left adductor strain) and Efrain Juarez (right calf strain). Neither of these guys sitting out is going to hurt the Whitecaps. And, hey, only two on the injury list at the end of the season isn’t half bad.
Portland Timbers (15-9-9, 54 pts)
So, will Gio Savarese go with the 4-2-3-1?
If he does, it would make it three matches in a row. It’s hard to argue with the results the formation has brought the Timbers here down the back stretch. The only problem I have is Guzman as part of that double pivot: He’s up and down, and who knows what Guzman you’ll get from match to match. It’s either that or an even-more-out-of-form Lawrence Olum, I get that he was better in the earlier part of the season, but he’s seem to drop off a bit. If I had to pick the lesser of two ‘evils’, I’d have to stick with Guzman.
The most likely scenario is that Gio will rest some players ahead of the playoffs.
It’s going to be a quick turnaround for the Timbers as they head into the playoffs (the first round starts on Wednesday) and resting some of your starters might be a good idea. Don’t tank the match, but there probably are some players we haven’t seen in a while that could use a run. Paredes, anyone?
So who do you start on Sunday in goal? Steve Clark, who’s been doing a fine job of holding down the fort; or Jeff Attinella, who’s coming off a dislocated shoulder? He did ride the bench against Real Salt Lake, but will he get the start on Sunday? I hope so; shake off a bit of that rust headed into the playoffs. Or, does Gio stay with the hot hand, as it were, and continue to start Steve Clark?
Also listed on the injury list is Alvas Powell, who is listed as questionable because he’s been on concussion protocol. So we’ll see at game time whether he’s ready to go or not; this injury is obviously not something to mess with.
The Timbers win against Real Salt Lake last week was their 15th, which is tied for the most wins in a single season in the club’s MLS era. With those wins, Gio is is now tied for the third-most wins by an MLS head coach in the first year. A win on Sunday would give Portland 57 points, tying the club’s MLS record for points in a season, set in 2013.
Sunday’s match marks the 22nd meeting in MLS play during the regular season between Portland and Vancouver. The Timbers lead the all-time series with a record of 10-5-6, including a mark of 4-3-2 at BC Place. Portland has won three of the last four meetings, including Portland’s last match on the road against Vancouver — a 2-1 win at BC Place on July 23, 2017. Jeremy Ebobisse recorded a goal and an assist, while Blanco notched the game-winner.
Blanco has nine goals and assists in seven appearances since September 1, tied for the fourth-most of any MLS player. He had 10 goals and assists in his 20 previous MLS appearances.
As I mentioned last week, it seems like the season just started, and now here we are at the end of the regular season. While the Timbers won’t be seeded as high as we would have liked, still we’re going to the playoffs — and once in the playoffs, we all know that anything can happen. Let’s not have a repeat of the Houston debacle with the ‘fluffy’ pitch. Yes, I’m still mad about that.
Who should start in goal?
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