The Portland Timbers are mired in a three game losing streak, the team's longest under Caleb Porter, but they have a chance to turn things around tomorrow as they host the Vancouver Whitecaps in as close to a must-win match as you will see in May.
To get a better idea about the side that the Timbers will be facing, we exchanged questions with SB Nation's Whitecaps blog: Eighty-Six Forever.
The Whitecaps are on something of a tear right now; how did the 'Caps win their last three and were those a fluke or is this team for real?
The biggest reason for the Whitecaps getting a full nine points in their last three matches would be the chemistry being created up front. Two new players, Perez and Bolanos, have finally started to settle in and it has shown on the scoreboard. Perez emphatically made his mark with a goal of the year candidate bicycle kick, and Bolanos has slowly but surely started to rack up goals and assists in the last couple of games.
It hasn't just been the new faces that have been impressing recently; the old guard has started playing like they have last year. Morales has been impressive in the midfield with his distribution, and Manneh's patented counter attacking runs have come back. The defense is nowhere near where it should be (more on that later), but as long as we're scoring more than we're conceding, the fans in Vancouver will be happy.
In the early going, back when Vancouver where hanging out with the Timbers below the red line, the Whitecaps were gaining a reputation as a team that could only score from set-pieces and counter attacks. Is that still true? And if not, what has changed?
We still definitely are a team that relies heavily on counter attacks and set pieces, but in the last week we've shown that we can also control the game as well. Our midfielders have grown more comfortable in the past few weeks keeping the ball, and even though we don't have 80% possession in every game, it is a vast improvement from the beginning of the year, where we only had set pieces and specifically penalties to rely on.
However, it's important to note that historically the Caps have not been the team that wins games through their possession. Under Robinson as head coach we've developed as a team that has a rock solid back line, and speedy wingers up top. So far that's worked for us, and I don't expect us to change to tactics used in the Camp Nou any time soon.
The Whitecaps have allowed more goals than everyone else in the West (except the Timbers) and allowed three to Toronto FC last weekend. What is going on with the Whitecaps' defense, how can the Timbers exploit it, and what might Vancouver do to lock it down?
While last weekends goalfest with Toronto could be considered a one off, it does show a trend with our defense. Even though we won our last three games, we have no shutouts in any of those victories. The Whitecaps of old would have found a way to both win and keep a clean sheet.
We didn't have Kendall Waston last week, so that definitely contributed to our leaky back line. But even with him in the lineup, we've shown tremendous vulnerability. When teams play it quickly and on the ground, we have been prone to committing individual errors and being out of position. In the air Vancouver's defense is still strong, but on the ground is where we will get beat.
When it comes to solving our defensive woes, it starts with improved decision making in the midfield. If we can have less giveaways, better man marking, and commit less dumb fouls, it will make our back lines job a lot easier.