The Portland Timbers are headed up north to Canada this weekend to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps in the second leg of their home and away playoff series. With a 0-0 draw in hand from the first leg at Providence Park, the Timbers may not have the lead in the series, but they come into this match in good position to get a result.
So, what do the Timbers need to do to advance? And why should we think that they will?
Chris got us started with his Three Questions from the match, but let's look a little harder and a little longer at those questions.
First, let's look purely at the results the Timbers need.
With no away goals for Vancouver, the Timbers hold the advantage in the event of a draw in regulation time. In the event of a Timbers win or any non-scoreless draw, the Timbers move on to the Western Conference Finals. If Vancouver wins outright, the Whitecaps move on. If there is a scoreless draw through the end of regulation, then the match will go to extra time and things will get interesting.
In extra time in the MLS Playoffs, away goals do not matter; one team must win outright over the other or the match will go to penalties.
So, the Timbers need to score a goal or two if they want this to end in regulation. If the Timbers score one goal, the Whitecaps must score two. If the Timbers score two goals the Whitecaps must score three. If the Timbers score three goals... You get the idea.
Up next, what do the Whitecaps look like at home?
Well, the Whitecaps have more losses at home than any other team to have made the playoffs this year in either conference. In fact, the Whitecaps have more losses than anyone in the Western Conference except the Colorado Rapids.
The Whitecaps have also allowed eighteen goals in their seventeen home games, more than every other playoff team in the West except Sporting Kansas City who have allowed 20. (Out East, where teams have universally given up more goals on average, four of the six teams in the playoffs have given up eighteen or more goals at home.) In contrast, the Timbers, who got the second fewest points at home of Western Conference teams in the playoffs, gave up only thirteen goals at Providence Park in the regular season.
Recently, however, the 'Caps have been all over the place in terms of their results at home. Their last five games played at BC Place: a 2-0 win over the Colorado Rapids, a 3-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders, a 2-1 loss to NYCFC, a 0-0 draw against FC Dallas, and finally a 3-0 win over the Houston Dynamo to close out the season. None of those matches seem particularly inspiring in terms of the result for the Whitecaps. Even running over the Rapids and the Dynamo came against teams decidedly on the downswing of their seasons.
What does seem clear from these matches, however, is that, despite their reputation as a team that likes to sit back and hit the opposition on the counter, the Whitecaps are a team that does better at home when they are able to dominate possession. In all but one of the Caps' last five home wins, they were the team that controlled the pace of the match, completing the most passes and keeping their opponents on the back foot, eventually finding the breakthrough.
In fact, most of the Whitecaps' recent wins at home have boxscores that look like the opposite of what we saw last Sunday, when the Timbers held 60% of the possession and kept Vancouver pinned back deep in their own end for long stretches of the match.
How, exactly, the Whitecaps will come out to play in this one is a big variable for this weekend: will they play the defender and counter style that has frustrated the Timbers so far this season, or will they look to take a more active role and get some of that sweet, sweet possession for themselves.
Finally, it is impossible to look forward at this game without keeping in mind what has to be in many Timbers fans' top three favorite chants: "Our House in the Middle of BC".
With home field advantage at a premium in the Western Conference this year more than ever, the fact that the Timbers have been inordinately successful at Vancouver on the road is a constant source of amusement to Portlanders. Since the two teams joined MLS, the Timbers are 3-1-2 at BC Place, scoring ten goals -- at least one per game -- while only allowing six. Of those ten goals, all but two were scored by players still with the Timbers (Jose Adolfo Valencia and Kenny Cooper).
For old times' sake, let's check out two of those goals, real quick.
First, the action starts at 1:51.
Then we have the goal that won the Timbers' their first MLS era Cascadia Cup.
That was refreshing.
The Timbers' dominance at BC Place has not extended to 2015, however, with that lone loss in Vancouver coming earlier this season. The match had a 2-1 scoreline, but saw the Timbers massively dominating possession, controlling the ball for more than 60% of the game, but failing to deal with the quick counters of Vancouver and ultimately giving up the game winning goal due to an embarrassing miscommunication between Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell that allowed Robert Earnshaw a free run at goal to get the go ahead late in the match.
It was an abysmal moment for the Timbers' back line, but one that they bounced back from strongly, marking a moment that seemed to be a turning point for the pair. While Ridgewell and Borchers have still had their individual gaffs this season, the duo have not come close to matching the unfortunateness that we saw early in the year and that peaked in Vancouver.
In fact, if the Timbers' recent match against the LA Galaxy is any indication, the Timbers are more than ready to take advantage of a potentially more aggressive team that is going to look to break quickly down the pitch. Or, if the Whitecaps do slow-play this one, the Timbers showed that they certainly have the ability to withstand that as well, as demonstrated on Sunday at Providence Park.