Rivalry weekend (week? weeks?) rolls on for the Portland Timbers, as they face off against another Cascadia foe this weekend. Fresh off of a big 3-0 win over the Seattle Sounders, the Timbers welcome the Vancouver Whitecaps to Providence Park, in a game that is not only pivotal for the race for the Cascadia Cup but also the race for the MLS Cup Playoffs.
A Look at the Opposition
Vancouver’s 2022 season has been very similar to many of their prior seasons: up-and-down, unpredictable, and marked with surprising results— both for and against the ‘Caps. Recently, the Whitecaps have found a decent form after an off-kilter start (sound a bit familiar, eh?). They have lost just twice in their past six game, and have gained five points from their last three away matches.
Powering this charge has been the new face of Andres Cubas, a Paraguayan defensive midfielder who was signed at the end of April to a Designated Player contract. His arrival has pretty much directly correlated to the ‘Caps recent upswing, and it is due in large part to the defensive presence he has brought to the middle of the field.
As a pure disruptor, he has helped Vancouver get a hold of their midfield, and therefore ease some of the pressure on Vanocuver’s so-so centerbacks and fullbacks/wingbacks. He’s one of those “tilts the field away from his goal” type players, and it in turn frees up attackers. Vancouver’s winner against LAFC earlier this month showcases a bit of this, and also features a banger of an inaugural MLS goal:
He has been season-changing for them— and then he had to get subbed out of Vancouver’s loss against Minnesota early due to injury. Since then Vancouver has battled to a 2-2 draw at Cincinnati without him, but it appears that he will be ready to return on Sunday.
Media just spoke to Vanni Sartini, Cubas, Ranko, Owusu will be back for #VWFC’s match at #RCTID— Har Journalist (@HarJournalist) July 15, 2022
Cropper, Brown, Caicedo, Berhalter, Gutierrez, Hasal, Martins are out.
Boehmer will start, Anchor will be the backup goalkeeper.
Gressel won’t play.#PORvVAN pic.twitter.com/ithgQAXPm9
Vancouver’s starting and backup goalkeepers are both out however, so 20 year-old homegrown ‘keeper Isaac Boehmer is set to get the start. Newly acquired winger Julian Gressel won’t quite be ready to go either.
Vancouver has relied upon their talismanic midfielder Ryan Gauld and the revitalized Lucas Cavallini to bang in the goals— both players have combined to score nearly half of Vancouver’s total goals this season, and they will be itching do so on Sunday.
Vancouver comes to Portland with a head of steam, and perhaps a bit of confidence seeing as the last time they were in town they stunned the Timbers to the tune of 3-2 comeback win. An always tricky foe, the Whitecaps will be as dangerous as ever on Sunday night.
Timbers’ Team News
All prominent players are to be available for the Timbers on Sunday except for one player, and it’s a biggie: Eryk Williamson is suspended for the match due to yellow card accumulation. Williamson’s ability to break lines with his dribbling and passing has had a huge influence on Portland’s recent run, and it will be very hard for the Timbers to replicate it.
In Williamson’s absence, the Timbers will likely look to either Cristhian Paredes or David Ayala to fill the gap. Paredes is more of a connector-type of midfielder, and Ayala is still working out some developmental pains, so neither are like-for-like. Portland’s offense, which has been a bit Williamson-centric as of late, will need to be prepared to adjust and adapt in order to keep its potency against the wily Whitecaps.
Offensive potency will be important for Portland. With Vancouver dealing with short rest, players just returning from injury, and an untested goalkeeper between the sticks, the key for the Timbers will be establishing themselves as the aggressors early and put pressure on the visitors early and often.
Sunday’s result is major for the Timbers, as with a win there is a chance they can jump above the playoff line for the first time in what feels like forever (pending results elsewhere). Vancouver is nipping at their heels in the table and are just a point behind them, so a victory will also keep them at bay.
In addition, with a win against Vancouver the Timbers could basically put one hand on the Cascadia Cup, a trophy they have not won since 2017.
something to add to the Cascadia Cup bit: if the Timbers beat the Caps at home, not only would the Sounders have to win out to win the Cup, they'd have to beat the Timbers by at least 3 in Portland to do so.— Andy (@palmquac) July 16, 2022
While it feels like bragging rights in the Cascadia rivalry have started to depend upon bigger pieces of silverware, regional supremacy is something the Timbers haven’t been able to feel in quite some time. So Sunday is important not just for Portland’s continued Summer comeback up the table, but also for their race for an important piece of silverware.
I am fairly sure there has never been a “normal” game between the Timbers and the Whitecaps. Every game seems to feature some sort of drama and excitement, as the first installment this season at BC Place showcased. So I expected some sort of nonsense on Sunday night.
I’ll go with another 3-2 scoreline— with the Timbers emerging as the victors this time around. Jaroslaw Niezgoda will score and keep us saying sorry, Sebastian Blanco will score a banger, and Claudio Bravo will score his first MLS goal (like I said— never normal!).
All the action kicks off at 7:30 p.m. PT at Providence Park (broadcast on Fox 12 Plus).