Saturday brings the Portland Timbers' latest version of The Most Important Game of the Season. For the second time in four weeks that comes against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Though Portland routed Vancouver 3-0 at BC Place, the two games in between, against teams below them on the table, yielded just two points and leave the Timbers outside the playoffs at the moment. To find out what to expect from Saturday afternoon's game, we turned once again to Jon Szekeres of 86 Forever:
1. The Whitecaps finally scored over the past two games and picked up three points in the process. What exactly was the problem before and is that now solved enough to expect Vancouver to score on Saturday?
The optimist in me says yes, the realist says absolutely not. When the Whitecaps cut ties with Kenny Miller earlier this season, they were essentially giving the keys to the big, shiny new Ferrari to their young crop of strikers, names like Erik Hurtado, Darren Mattocks, Kekuta Manneh and Omar Salgado. Unfortunately, they've been largely inconsistent this season, and the 'Caps just can't rely on them to score when the club really needs it. It's actually a little ironic; last season the Whitecaps had a great striker and a questionable midfield, and this season it's been reversed.
Erik Hurtado got on the board against FC Dallas and perhaps that will send him on another goal streak, but really, you never know what you're going to expect from the offense on any given night. This same core group of forwards were feared for their speed and finish earlier this season, and now they have the same attacking prowess as a baked potato. So I guess the short answer is, I'm never expecting the 'Caps to score, but they definitely have the potential. Frustrating, enraging potential.
2. Several weeks ago the Timbers routed the Whitecaps 3-0 at BC Place. Are there any changes to the starting XI Carl Robinson can make to prevent a similar outcome?
I imagine you'll see a similar lineup to the one on August 30th, although a few players will hopefully be a bit more comfortable in their roles. Kendall Waston made his first MLS start in that last Timbers match and didn't look great. Now he has a few matches under his belt, and he even scored his first MLS goal off a set piece against the San Jose Earthquakes on September 10th. A more confident Waston would help the 'Caps both on the backline and in the air.
Otherwise, I don't think the lineup was the problem last time. I though the 'Caps played a fine first half but couldn't take advantage of their chances, while Portland did. If the 'Caps have a similar start this week, but actually make a few of those chances count, I think they'll do well in the match.
3. How realistic is a playoff position at this point, even granting that Vancouver are above the line at present?
I mean, the intriguing thing about the Whitecaps is that, if they did manage to gel during the home stretch of the season, they'd be a very dangerous team. However, I've been waiting for these young players to gel, to mesh well with each other, and it hasn't happened consistently enough over the season.
I think the result of this weekends match will give us a very good indication of how hungry the Whitecaps are to taste the post-season; if they lay another stinker down against the Timbers like they did in August, that could very well be it.
David Ousted, Steven Beitashour, Andy O'Brien, Kendall Waston, Jordan Harvey, Mauro Rosales, Matias Laba, Pedro Morales, Russell Teibert, Erik Hurtado, Sebastian Fernandez