After clocking some serious air miles the Vancouver Whitecaps are home to host the Portland Timbers in the first Cascadia Cup match of the season, as Vancouver look to defend their 5th Cascadia Cup title. Back-to-back road trips saw the ‘Caps come away with a maximum six points thanks to some timely goals from Octavio Rivero. The road victories in Chicago and Orlando were far from perfect; in fact, they can both be classified as ugly wins. However, winning on the road is always challenging. We can gain some important insight about a team that picks up 1-0 road victories. The first being the team in question has a stalwart defense and the second, that they have a counter-attack that only needs a few chances to punish the home team. The Vancouver Whitecaps fit that picture. If the Whitecaps can now consistently pick up maximum points at home then they will be one of the best teams in the league.
After starting the season with three straight draws the Timbers will be looking to build on their gutsy performances and earn their first victory. The Whitecaps have historically struggled to earn positive results against their Cascadia rivals, but today both teams will be hindered by a thin game day roster. A quick glance at the roster for each respective team will tell its own story. Injuries, international call-ups and suspensions have ransacked both Vancouver and Portland. The key absences for Portland are Canadian international and captain, Will Johnson and the man who runs the show, Diego Valeri. On the other side the Whitecaps are missing Russell Teibert due to international duty; Sam Adekugbe has severely bruised ribs and Kekuta Manneh to suspension. Both teams will likely be throwing some inexperienced youngsters into the fray to fill in for their missing starters.
Veteran midfielder Mauro Rosales is still nursing an ankle injury which means Nico Mezquida will once again slot into the midfield as his replacement. Who replaces Manneh is harder to predict. Based on MLS experience it would be logical that Oregon native, Erik Hurtado would get the green light. However, the blazing speed of Hurtado is more efficient against the tired legs of Timber defenders late in the second half. Working with this reasoning it would mean that Canadian youngster, Kianz Froese would start in the midfield. Froese came on as a sub last week in Orlando and immediately showed why the young Canadian will someday be a regular MLS starter.
Over the first three games of the season the Whitecaps have established themselves as a team that looks to hit opponents on the counter, and so far it has worked. With Adekugbe and Manneh both out for today’s game, this means that the counter down the left wing has taken a serious hit. Carl Robinson has hinted several times over the last few months that he might experiment with his lineup. With the addition of Robert Earnshaw earlier this week, now might just be the time to play with said formation. Another interesting feature for the match will be Pa-Modou Kah who joined Vancouver from Portland this last offseason. The central defender burned his old team in February when he scored the winning goal for the Whitecaps during a preseason match. Kah is a driven professional who would surely love to send a message to the team that cut him loose.
Cascadia matches are always a treat to witness. The away and home supporters dueling chants across the stadium. Every call, even if correct, drawing jeers from the crowd. Silverware and bragging rights hang in the balance. Today’s match will be no different.