Saturday night at Providence Park, the Vancouver Whitecaps will open their seven-match road trip with a Cascadia clash against the Portland Timbers.
While Vancouver is coming off a disappointing home loss to San Jose, their struggles pale in comparison to what Portland is going through at the moment. Following a 5-0 loss to Houston last weekend, the Timbers parted ways with long-time manager Gio Savarese, who had been at the helm since Caleb Porter left the team in 2017. Savarese departs the Timbers as the most successful manager record-wise in Timbers history, also having taken them to two MLS Cup Finals and having won the MLS is Back tournament title in 2020. Currently, the Timbers are a shell of those dominant teams, sitting 12th in the West, without much of a road map to significant improvement.
For the unforgettable moments, the achievements, and all the memories.
Gracias por todo, Profe 💚 pic.twitter.com/kmr8yheMYw
— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) August 22, 2023
In terms of Portland this season, a couple things really stand out. First, this is a team that struggles to score and create chances consistently. No one on the team has more than six goals and there has been a lot of rotation in terms of attacking players throughout the season. Second, the Timbers do not have a very impressive record at home. Despite the Timbers Army, Portland’s home expected goal differential is pretty much dead even on the season, which is simply not good enough to be a playoff team in MLS. I get the sense that at some point soon, this Timbers roster is due for a major overhaul. The Timbers have an average squad age of 27, so there isn’t much of an argument to be made that this squad just needs more time to get things together. With a new manager incoming in the off-season, I would expect Portland to look much different come 2024.
However, those future considerations aren’t really all that relevant for the Whitecaps this weekend in the Rose City. Last time these two played, back on May 13th in Portland, the Whitecaps suffered one of their worst losses of the season, going down 2-0 to the Timbers inside twenty minutes and eventually dropping the match 3-1. On the day, everything went right for the Timbers in attack, as Evander scored twice, Franck Boli chipped in with a goal of his own, and Portland did a nice job preventing Vancouver from having too many five alarm opportunities. Looking back though, this match looks far more like an anomaly than the norm for Portland, as they have just two wins in their last twelve MLS matches since that contest.
For the Whitecaps, a big focus going into this match will be how many minutes they can expect from some of their key contributors. After coming off the bench against San Jose, Ryan Gauld looks poised to make his return to the starting lineup as he continues to manage an ongoing hamstring issue. Much the same can be said for Ali Ahmed, who has not featured in the starting XI for Vancouver in quite some time, as he looked sharp against San Jose and is hopefully ready to take a step back to full fitness. The newcomers Adekugbe and Laryea, meanwhile, should both be able to go more than forty-five minutes after successful debuts last weekend. We will see if Vanni Sartini is ready to start both of them together on Saturday. Something else to keep in mind in terms of team selection this weekend is that the Whitecaps will have to go again midweek in Chicago, so whoever plays a full ninety on the weekend may have their minutes managed midweek.
Vancouver has a great opportunity in this match to immediately erase the memory of their home loss to San Jose with a big result on the road against regional rivals. They will have to be warry of the interim manager bump for Portland, but if Vancouver can come in and dictate play early, I think there’s a win to be had in this one. It might not be pretty, but I’m going to predict Vancouver grinds out a 1-0 result at Providence Park, getting their road trip off to a good start.
(Photo Credit: Howard Lao)