Well, if the Whitecaps are to make their way into the playoffs, it’ll have to be on the back of some much-improved road form. A highly disappointing loss at home to San Jose coming out of Leagues Cup has put even more pressure on this upcoming seven(!) match road trip.
If you’re a glass half full kind of person, you can hold on to the fact that only three of those seven teams they’ll face on this trip are currently playoff teams, and that includes Chicago who just barely qualify at 9th in the East. If you’re a glass half empty kind of person, none of that matters too much when you’re a team like the ‘Caps who are a dismal 1-5-3 away from home this year, tied with Houston for the third-lowest road points total in all of MLS.
The ’Caps have at least showed some life on the road recently, snagging a quite surprising 3-2 win over LAFC back in late June and stealing three points at the death against the Galaxy in Leagues Cup. Of course, sandwiched between those two was a 3-0 defeat at the hands of SKC which evoked an all-too familiar feeling of many games away from BC Place, so it hasn’t all been roses.
The ’Caps will really be hoping that Ryan Gauld is back to full fitness, as he was only able to make a substitute appearance against the Earthquakes and wasn’t moving to the level with which he normally operates. By the same token, Richie Laryea and Sam Adekugbe split the match last weekend and if both of them are able to go for longer this time around it will add quite a lot as the pair (in particular Adekugbe) created some real chances in their Vancouver debut/re-debut.
Continuing with the 3-1-4-2 formation allows for those two wingbacks to have greater license to bomb forward which will hopefully make the ‘Caps attack that much more dynamic, while it of course leaves a good bit of responsibility on the three centre-backs + Andrés Cubas in front of them. Javain Brown appears to have fallen a bit out of favour while Luis Martins has been nursing an injury which has left the trio of Ranko Veselinović, Tristian Blackmon, and Mathias Laborda as the de facto unit at the back.
In the midfield, perhaps the biggest question is whether Ali Ahmed will find his way back into the starting lineup. The Canadian midfielder was a force before his pre-Gold Cup injury, and since his return to Vancouver he’s only appeared as a sub. Alessandro Schöpf provides an interesting contrast to Ahmed, as he’s a bit of a safer option but less dynamic. Having all three of Ahmed, Gauld, and Pedro Vite on the field at the same time would probably be the ‘Caps most creative line-up possible but whether Vanni Sartini would roll the dice to put it out there is another question.
Looking at the hosts, the Timbers are in flux with a quite disappointing season to this point that led to them firing coach Gio Savarese earlier this week. This is their first match without him, and the parting of ways comes after Houston dog walked the Timbers 5-0 last weekend. Portland now sits 12th in the West, five points back of the ‘Caps.
This is the third and final meeting between these teams this season. The first was a 1-0 ‘Caps win at home back in April, followed by a 3-1 Timbers win in Portland in May. The ‘Caps have won just two of their last 10 trips to Providence Park, with the last victory coming in a 3-2 thriller in the fall of 2021.
One thing we seem likely to see is a winner: in the last twenty meetings between these two sides there has only been one draw. That was a 1-1 result in Portland last summer. Otherwise, it’s been 11 wins for Portland and eight for Vancouver.
With the Whitecaps’ playoff positioning currently hanging by a thread, picking up a result (even just a point) could do a lot to temporarily quell concerns about an impending slide down the table. This team certainly has the talent to start pulling out some more results away from BC Place, and they certainly need to do so.