VANCOUVER, B.C – With four matches remaining on their schedule, every time the Vancouver Whitecaps step on the pitch they are facing a must win situation. The Caps have backed themselves into a dark corner with little margin for errors, draws, or losses. The next step for the playoff hopeful Whitecaps is a date with the Portland Timbers on Sunday night at BC Place.
Realistically it has been projected that Vancouver will need at least 9 of 12 points to have a shot of securing the 5th and final MLS Western Conference playoff spot. If the Caps can’t beat Portland it could signal the end to any playoff chances..
Vancouver are coming off a shocking 1-0 defeat to Real Salt Lake in front of a sold out crowd on September, 28. The team failed to show up in the biggest match of the season against a team that resembled more of a reserve like squad. Vancouver will have to throw everything including the kitchen sink at goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and the Timbers if they are to earn all 3-points. A no-show performance, and a failure to make the playoffs would put a mark a step back on a franchise that had such high hopes at the beginning of the season.
A single win in their last seven matches has Vancouver sitting 7th in the MLS Western Conference standings with 41 points. Turmoil has surrounded the Vancouver Whitecaps and they aren’t the happiest bunch at the moment. The best way to change all of that is with a win. At Caps training this week captain Jay DeMerit spoke about how his team needs to get better.
“You make sure you come to your home stadium with energy. If there’s one thing you have it’s commitment, and fight. That’s the first thing you can build on, and then from there it’s about guys doing their jobs, and being accountable for those jobs. Defenders need to defend, and keep the ball out of the net. Forwards need to score goals, that’s what they’re out there to do. Midfielders need to be the gel in between, and make sure we keep the ball, and advance into out final third, and create chances.”
Portland and Vancouver have drawn both their matches against each other this season, and Vancouver has never defeated their Cascadian rivals from Oregon in MLS. The Timbers have been on quite a roll of late allowing only a single goal in September. Ricketts is among the top keepers in MLS, and he is tied with Zac MacMath of Philadelphia with 11 shutouts on the season. One thing Vancouver will have in their favour, is that Portland has not won an MLS regular season road match since May 25 at D.C. United.
Martin Rennie will be hoping that streak continues as his Jekyll and Hyde team search for any type of offense, and creative chances to find the back of the net. Vancouver did not generate enough opportunities to score vs Real Salt Lake. Camilo Sanvezzo potted a brace away to Montreal, and Kenny Miller also scored in the Caps 3-nil win on September, 21… but other than that the Whitecaps offense is as cold as Grouse Mountain on a long winters day.
Kenny Miller did not play vs RSL with an abductor strain, and his status vs Portland is unknown. The Scottish striker trained on and off the pitch with Vancouver this week. The Whitecaps dynamic duo have combined for 28 goals this season, while the rest of the team has 18 goals.
The midfield will be a key battle for Vancouver. The likes of Gershon Koffie, Nigel Reo-Coker, Russell Teibert, and perhaps Matt Watson have to control the ball, and setup up service for Camilo, and Miller. Without any help from the midfield the Caps top strikers will be left stranded on an island. Vancouver has had problems with this, and have not had a true no.10 attacking midfield presence since Davide Chiumiento left for F.C Zurich last campaign.
Nigel Reo-Coker is due for a big game after a lackluster showing vs RSL. The Englishman has provided a huge boost since joining the Whitecaps in February. His ability to boss the game, and attack players with the ball have helped Vancouver immensely in the midfield. His leadership on, and off the field have provided huge contributions for the Caps. If Reo-Coker has his legs, and his game face on Vancouver will be in a good position to upset the Timbers.
The Vancouver defense has improved a lot during the course of the season, despite featuring a revolving door of Centre-Backs. Carlyle Mitchell, and Jay DeMerit have been the gaffers go to backs of late, with Andy O’Brien, and Johnny Leveron both nursing minor injuries. O’Brien has been back training at full capacity this week, and should return to the eighteen. Leveron was not used as a sub on the weekend.
Vancouver’s defenders will face a tough test as Portland has a well-balanced attack. You can’t focus on one, or two players because Portland has been getting contributions from everyone. Diego Valeri, Will Johnson, Ryan Johnson, Rodney Wallace, and the always flashy Darlington Nagbe will present a stiff test on paper.
David Ousted started off slow when he joined the Whitecaps from Denmark. The Caps latest keeper has stood on his head, and is the only reason why Vancouver haven’t ended up on the wrong side of a lopsided result. The great Dane was the man of the match vs Real Salt Lake, and he has allowed 1 goal in his previous 3-matches. Ousted is in fine form, and he will have to continue that run if Vancouver are to topple Portland.
Projected Vancouver Whitecaps Starting XI: David Ousted; Jordan Harvey, Andy O’Brien, Jay DeMerit (C), Y.P. Lee; Jun Marques Davidson, Nigel Reo-Coker, Gershon Koffie; Russell Teibert. Camilo Sanvezzo, Kenny Miller; (4-3-3)