Here we go.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC kick off their 2015 MLS Cup Playoff campaign on Sunday, when they visit Cascadia rival Portland Timbers in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinal.
Match Day: Sunday, November 1
Kickoff: 2 p.m.
Venue: Providence Park, Portland
TV: TSN1 (ESPN1 in some parts of the world)
Radio: TSN 1410
Whitecaps FC will host the decisive second leg on Sunday, November 8 at BC Place (kickoff TBD) – the club’s first-ever home playoff match in MLS (get tickets).
The team that scores more combined goals over the two legs will advance to the Western Conference Final against either FC Dallas or Seattle Sounders FC. If both teams are level on goals at the end of two legs, the team that scored more goals away from home will advance.
Why not Vancouver?
Whitecaps FC enter the playoffs on the heels of their best MLS season yet.
The ‘Caps had a club record 16 wins and 53 points, which got them a second place finish in the Western Conference and bye to the conference semifinals.
They were also the best road team in MLS this season with a 7W-7L-3D record, which should give them some confidence heading into this one.
After going winless in five matches, the ‘Caps made things right in last weekend’s regular season finale with a convincing 3-0 win over Houston Dynamo. Can they keep things rolling on Sunday?
Earlier this week, ‘Caps head coach Carl Robinson said attacking midfielder Nicolas Mezquida should be “ready to go” this weekend. Robinson also said he’s expecting captain Pedro Morales to be involved at some point during the series, so it will be interesting to see who occupies the attacking midfielder position come 2 p.m. on Sunday.
On the other hand, former Timbers centre back Pa-Modou Kah has been ruled out due to injury.
Portland booked their ticket to the conference semis with a thrilling 3-2 win over Sporting KC in Thursday’s Knockout Round match. The Timbers won the match in an epic, 11-round penalty shootout after each team scored a goal in extra time.
Caleb Porter’s side, who finished third in the Western Conference with 53 points, have now won four straight matches. During that span, they outscored their opponents by a 13-5 margin.
Clearly, they’re one of the hottest teams in MLS.
The question is: how quickly can they recover after Thursday’s emotional victory?
“No doubt the guys will be ready,” Porter said. “No doubt they will be turned around once the whistle blows, the adrenaline goes, they won’t feel it. We’ll be ready.”
Another big question: what’s the status of Diego Chara? The influential central midfielder missed out on Thursday due to injury. Also of note, four Timbers players (Diego Valeri, Rodney Wallace, Liam Ridgewell, and George Fochive) picked up yellow cards against Sporting KC, meaning they are just one yellow card away from suspension.
Kekuta Manneh (LW) vs. Alvas Powell (RB)
Manneh, who plays on the left wing, is one of Vancouver’s most dangerous attacking weapons – he finished second on the team with seven goals to go along with a team-high six assists. One of Manneh’s best attributes is his speed on the counter-attack. And he’ll be lined up against Timbers right back Alvas Powell, who’s also among the fastest players in MLS. Interestingly, Powell also led the Timbers in touches this season, so don’t be surprised if you see a lot of the action on this side of the pitch.
Kendall Waston (CB) vs. Fanendo Adi (S)
Waston, a 6-foot-5 centre back, is the anchor of Vancouver’s back line. He was named the club’s BMO Player of the Year and is a real candidate – if not a frontrunner – for the MLS Defender of the Year award. Adi, meanwhile, is 6-foot-4 striker who led Portland with 16 goals this season. The next closest player had five. That speaks for itself.
Matias Laba (M) vs. Diego Valeri (M)
It’s an-all Argentina matchup here. Laba, Vancouver’s midfield destroyer, against Valeri, Portland’s midfield playmaker. The latter led the Timbers with eight assists this season – despite missing 12 matches due to injury. He’ll be up against Laba, who led MLS in tackles in each of the past two seasons. Keep a close eye on this matchup. It’s a big one.
Don’t forget about: Cristian Techera (RW) and Darlington Nagbe (M)
Techera, who is only 5-foot-2, was Vancouver’s most productive player down the stretch – he finished the season with seven goals and five assists. And Nagbe is always a threat with his runs from midfield. You could make a case that he’s Portland’s most dangerous player. He had three goals and an assist in Portland’s last two regular season matches.
The ‘Caps and Timbers played three evenly-matched games during the regular season.
Whitecaps FC went unbeaten with a home win and two road draws (take a closer look at the season series here). In MLS, however, Portland still has a 6W-2L-6D advantage.
The rivalry between the two clubs actually dates back to 1975 in the former North American Soccer League (NASL), and continued in the second division before both teams joined MLS in 2011. Whitecaps FC hold an all-time record of 35W-30L-17D against the Timbers.