This is it, Vancouver. Whitecaps FC will play their first-ever home playoff game in MLS on tonight, when they host longtime Cascasdia rival Portland Timbers at BC Place.
Match Day: Sunday, November 8
Kickoff: 7 p.m.
Venue: BC Place
Radio: TSN 1410
The situation is clear for Whitecaps FC after playing to a scoreless draw in the first leg last weekend in Portland. Win, and the ‘Caps are through to the Western Conference Final, where they will meet either FC Dallas or Seattle Sounders FC.
Another scoreless draw would send the match to extra time (two 15-minute halves) and potentially a penalty shootout, while any other draw in regulation or a loss would see the Timbers advance.
Note that the away goals rule will not apply in extra time.
It was announced on Thursday that a sold-out crowd of over 27,000 will be in attendance, and fans are encouraged to wear white to “whiteout” the entire lower bowl.
“It should be an exciting, exciting game,” Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson said. “The stadium will be packed. We need our fans behind us. You see what a difference the fans make, and they have all year, and they will again on Sunday.”
One of the big decisions Robinson and his coaching staff will have to make heading into this one is how best to use Pedro Morales. The Chilean attacking midfielder played 13 minutes as a second half sub in Portland – his first minutes since suffering a hamstring strain on October 3.
“He’s the captain of our club and we’ve missed him for a number of games through the run-in,” Robinson said this week. “You want your best players on the field, so it’s very tempting [to start him].”
TSN soccer analyst Jason deVos believes that Morales could make the difference for the ‘Caps.
“If Pedro is on form, the ‘Caps will have enough chances to win this game in regulation time,” deVos said.
Then, it’s just a matter of taking them.
“It’s pretty simple,” Robinson said. “We’ve got to keep a clean sheet and we’ve got to score a goal. If we do that, we’re though. That’s as simple as it is… whichever personnel I decide to use, we’ve got to win at home. If we can’t win at home, then we don’t deserve to be through.”
The Timbers are winless in four matches against the ‘Caps this year, but their road record (7W-7L-7D) and recent play has them feeling confident heading into this one.
There’s also the fact that they’ve never been kept off the scoresheet at BC Place, which is particularly noteworthy since the away goals rule is in effect. If Portland scores a goal on Sunday, the onus will be on Vancouver to score one more.
That won’t be easy.
Portland were the co-clean sheet leaders with Vancouver this season and they could have standout defensive midfielder Diego Chara back in the fold. Chara missed out last weekend due to injury but trained in full this week.
This will be the fourth meeting between Vancouver and Portland this season.
Three of those matches ended in draws at Providence Park – Whitecaps FC won the other 2-1 on the strength of a 90th-minute Robert Earnshaw goal back on March 28 at BC Place.
That should tell you how evenly-matched these teams are.
Robinson was asked this week what message he’ll have for the team on Sunday.
Here’s what he had to say:
“Go and play. The reason why you’re in on January 21 or 22 and you’re running around a football field when it’s cold and wet and rainy in Vancouver is to get to occasions like this. So when it’s here, which it is, don’t let it pass you by. Go out and enjoy yourselves.”
The winner of today’s match will play either FC Dallas or Seattle Sounders FC in the Western Conference Final (Seattle are up 2-1 heading into the second leg in Dallas), which will begin on Sunday, November 22 after the league’s international break.