To finish off their preseason training, the Whitecaps are heading down to Providence Park in Portland, Oregon, to defend their title in this year’s iteration of the Simple Invitational. In defence of their win last year, the Caps will be taking on the hosts, the Portland Timbers, who finished sixth in the MLS Western Conference last season, one spot behind the Whitecaps; Norwegian club Stabæk Fotbal of the Tippeligaen, who finished mid-table at ninth last season; and the Chicago Fire who finished ninth in the East with an astounding eighteen draws. The competition will be tight this year with three strong clubs competing, along with the Timbers.
The Simple Invitational is entering into its fourth consecutive year this season. The competition has gone through many different names, beginning as the Portland Timbers Tournament in 2012 and 2013, before changing to the Rose City Invitation last year, and finally settling on the Simple Invitation for this season’s contest.
In the first edition of the Portland Timbers Tournament four clubs competed: AIK of the Swedish Allsvenskan, and the MLS sides Chivas USA, the San Jose Earthquakes, and the Timbers. The Earthquakes went on to win the first tournament on goals for and against, while the Timbers, AIK, and Chivas finished second, third, and fourth, respectively. In the second iteration, FC Dallas replaced Chivas, and the Earthquakes went on to defend their title, while the Timbers finished dead last, and Dallas and AIK took second and third. In the third year of the tournament, its first and only as the Rose City Invitational, the Whitecaps replaced FC Dallas, and Portmore United of Jamaica replaced AIK. The Whitecaps were successful in their first tournament earning seven points in three games and taking the title from San Jose, who finished second, one point back of the Caps. The Timbers finished third with only two points, and Portmore found themselves not being able to handle the tough MLS competition, as they ended up last with only one point.
Ironically, in their three years of hosting the tournament, the Timbers have never won, always being bested by other MLS competition. This year they look to finally take the title for themselves, but know they will be facing stiff competition. The Chicago Fire are entering into the tournament boosted by the arrival of new DP striker, Kennedy Igboananike, and former Stabæk mid, Michael Stephens, who may get some playing time against his former club. Stabæk, led by U.S. Men’s National Team manager, Bob Bradley, are hoping to become the first foreign club to ever win the tournament, and ramp up for their own season in the Tippeligaen.
Finally, the defending champions, the Vancouver Whitecaps, fresh off their 6-0 shellacking of the University of Victoria Vikes, are looking forward to another great tournament and another passionate match against the Timbers. As said by Whitecaps’ manager Carl Robinson to the media, “I don’t think there’s ever a friendly game against Portland.” The Caps are warming up for the tournament with a closed-door friendly against the Timbers 2, Portland’s new reserve team, on February 21st at 7 P.M., before officially kicking off the tournament the next evening at 5 P.M. against the Timbers. The boys in blue and white could potentially face their toughest challenge of the preseason against Stabæk on Wednesday the 25th at 5 P.M., before ending with the kings of the draw, the Fire, on the 28th at 2:30 P.M.