Cascadia Cup Preview: Two Rivals Battle Saturday in BC Place
As the Month of May gets closer to its end, one-third the MLS season has almost past. Its week twelve and the two divisions have begun to take shape. When the Portland Timbers travel up north above the boarder to face the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday the 18th, it will have a little more meaning than just another tough division game. Welcome to the Cascadia Cup.
What is the cup?
Now if you are unfamiliar with the Cascadia Cup, there may be some good reasons why. First off, you may not be a resident soccer fan of the region. Or, you may not be aware that there is a regional competition between supporters groups in the Pacific Northwest. Basically, the winner is based on the head to head results of the 9 Timbers, Whitecaps and Sounders regular season matches. This is not unique.
Other MLS teams have similar rivalries, such as the Rocky Mountain Cup, which consists of Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids. There are others but I want to get back to the subject at hand. However, it is not too common to see it competed by three teams geographically so close.
Started back in 2004, when all three teams were in the USL, the Cascadia Cup was awarded to any of the three teams up to 2008. When Seattle entered MLS, due to the difference in leagues, only Portland and Vancouver competed for the cup. Since the latter two teams entered MLS in 2011, all three have been competing over the prize. And as we speak, all three teams have won the cup three times.
Depending on your bias, Portland has won 3 of the past 4 Cascadia Cups (Seattle was not a participant in 2009 and 2010). Seattle or Vancouver fans may disregard this and say that 1 of the 5 years where all three teams were a part of this was won by Portland. But that’s not going to be debated in this article further than this.
As the current holders of the Cup, Portland’s well known supporters club, The Timbers Army would claim or state they will win the competition again this season. Remember, this is a competition between supporters groups. For Portland, it was a feel good victory for the team and its loyal fan base. 2012 was a very challenging season that consisted of the sacking of their head Coach and a very long streak of games (8 games) without a victory.,
Current cup standings indicate it is still early in the competition. Portland and their bitter rivals, the Seattle Sounders met earlier this season. Their draw in Seattle leave both of them with a point a piece. Portland can take sole possession of the lead with a draw or victory. If Vancouver wins, they can take the top spot with a two point lead. Simply said, its Portland's lead to lose and Vancouver's to take from their rivals from the south.
Being able to lift the cup on the next to last game of the season must have been bittersweet. But it was not. It was pure joy. It was proof that the team could dig deep and repay their fans what they deserved. The supporters, in return, have shared their gratitude by continuing to line up hours before kickoff just to get their space they desire for home games.
This Weekend’s Match
So far this season, the situation for the two teams that will meet at BC Place Stadium could not be any more opposite when compared with last season. Portland currently sits in second place in the Western Conference with 18 points and Vancouver sits on 12 points in 6th. Last season, after 11 games it was Vancouver who had the upper hand on points and in the standings.
With that said, does it really matter? Some may come out with statistics and tendencies and road versus home records and so on. Not in this match. Not in Cascadia Cup games and definitely not in a rivalry match of this magnitude. Some may disagree with me on this, that is fine but my theory is anything and everything can happen in soccer, especially in a derby.
So who has the upper hand? My personal bias says Portland. However, I have tried to watch as many Whitecap games as possible over the past few seasons. They have put together a quality squad. Their win against Landon Donovan and the Galaxy was huge. I have heard some pundits say it was the most important victory of the franchise.
My main question I keep on asking myself is whether the Caps can keep up with PTFC’s fast paced possession style the league has been shown the past 11 games? Yes, they can I keep on answering. However, making a prediction is not as easy as going with my personal bias or statistics. I believe it depends on individual match ups and the chemistry that the players themselves have built within their teams that will make a difference. So here are a few worthy of paying attention to during this match as well as other players to keep in mind.
The key player match ups
Diego Valeri has been a central focus of Caleb Porter’s system of attack. He is without a doubt, one of the most important members of the squad at the moment. His off the ball movement and his vision to find passing lanes makes him versatile and tough to mark. Teams such as Chivas USA and Sporting Kansas City fell victimized to his skill set. Simply said, he makes his team mates better and vice versa.
The probable players to be marking him on Saturday will either be former English Premier League veteran Nigel Reo-Coker or Daigo Kobiyashi. It depends on where primarily Porter places Valeri. It is hard to really say for sure if Rennie will play the same line up or formation he used against Montreal, where Brad Rusin was playing as a box to box defensive mid. Of the two, Reo-Coker is one tough dude. He plays old school style of defense with little regard for his opponent; well that is just an assumption. Just ask Cronin of San Jose. Never the less, expect Valeri to stay moving, pass quick and attack the space if he is marked by Nigel. When it comes to Kobiyashi, I would expect Valeri to play similar but due to the size difference, Diego may get challenged by his foe a bit more.
When it comes to striker versus defender, Vancouver have an apparent edge. If Rennie is smart, he starts Darren Mattocks. The reason here is based on how I saw his performance against Portland’s Andrew Jean Baptiste last season in a reserve match. Before you say, “That was just a reserve match!” I want you to know Mattocks scored twice that match. Both were when Baptiste failed to contain him In addition, he scored the equalizer for the senior squad the day before. So he has had Portland’s number in the past. To summarize, Mattocks destroyed him. Baptiste is just too slow for him. Futty Danso may have a bit more luck but I see Mattocks just blowing by them, if his mates can get him the ball.
If Mattocks does not get the nod, the forward to expect to see attacking Portland’s back line should be Camilo Sanvezzo. The Brazilian is pretty good but his stats have not really lived up to his hype. He did have a breakout season in 2011 but in 2012 he was not able to meet his goal tally from the year prior of 12 with 5. Either he is hot or he is not. Against the Timbers, he has not been a threat but like I have said, this is a derby match. He may knock one in or set one up.
When it comes to the opposite side of the pitch, Ryan Johnson is similar to Mattocks. He is fast. What separates their style of play, they are both Jamaicans with aggressive attacking runs who can shoot, is physicality. Johnson isn’t dirty but he is not afraid to send a statement to the defenders that get in his way. There should only be one player in mind on Vancouver’s roster that can deal with this. That is of course Andy O’Brian. Coming in at six foot three, the 205 pound defender has been described as “no nonsense” by his club. His experience of professional play in England and as a part of the Republic of Ireland’s 2006 World Cup squad really can set a tone early if he is not forced to play off of his heels. If the latter occurs, expect Johnson to dominate.
Other key players
Players that can be game changers for Portland are Rodney Wallace and Darlington Nagbe. Both have emboldened the attack in Portland. Both are skilled with one and two touch play and have speed. Wallace is quite versatile. If needed, he can fall back and defend but as of late, his attacking style has made him a fan favorite. Nagbe is one of those players that are just hard to define. He is fast, smooth, intelligent and can pull off some amazing feats with the ball. He won goal of the year in 2011 and this one against Real Salt Lake must not be forgotten as well.
Midfielder Russel Tiebert had a career game against LA. He showed to possess a skill overlooked by Arena and saved the day for the Caps with a brace. If he is on the pitch I would not take my eye off of him. He is a bit of a mystery to me. But what I have seen, I like. He is young and fairly smart with the ball.
It would be unfair to not mention Kenny Miller. He is solid. Playing as the lone man up top as a striker or as an attacking mid has been his trademark while with the Caps. He may not have stats similar to his time playing for Rangers in Scotland but one thing is for sure, he will beat you if you fail to mark him.
Similar can be said of Gershon Koffie. The Ghanian Midfielder is known to slip through the defense and be at the right place at the right time to lead his team to victory.
Essentially, where all of this matters most is in the line ups that Porter or Rennie decide to consider as the best possible 11 players. Formations may matter but I would not put stock into them in a rivalry game. I will admit this is not the same as Seattle versus Portland, but it is still a rivalry. Portland has not lost to the Caps since entering MLS. Plus they have won on the road there the past two seasons.
Both teams won last week, scoring three goals. Portland is on a 9 game undefeated streak and like Vancouver, hopes to string together a second back to back game winning streak. I am going to go out on a limb. It could be a blowout or it could be close. But what I won’t say is for whom (it’s going to be Portland).
Kickoff is slated to take place on 4 PM Pacific time. Soccer fans unable to make it up to the game can catch the game live on the television on Root Sports (Portland) and City TV (Vancouver). Fans outside the media market can catch the game streamed off of the league’s home page through their subscription service MLS Live.