The MLS season is long and the Vancouver Whitecaps know this. After two impressive road wins, the Whitecaps returned home to BC Place last week but ended up losing 2-1 to Real Salt Lake. Let’s face it, RSL was by far the better team in that game and suffocated Vancouver.

While that loss really stung, the Whitecaps have turned the page. They want to make sure the loss against RSL was a blip, not a sign of a slump starting. The Portland Timbers come to town this Saturday and it is the first Cascadia game of the year for the Whitecaps. It will be the first of three meetings between Vancouver and Portland. This will also be the first of two at BC Place.

Vancouver are the reigning Cascadia Cup champions. That is the annual trophy contested between the Whitecaps, Seattle Sounders and Timbers. It is determined by who got the most points in games between them at the end of the season.

A look at the Timbers

Former England women’s national team and Inter Miami head coach (and briefly on John Herdman’s Canada men’s national team staff) Phil Neville is in his first year in Portland. So far, he and the Timbers have done alright. They have a 2-1-2 record and both of their losses came in the last two games.

They lost 1-0 in Houston and 3-1 at Providence Park against the Philadelphia Union. However, the scoreline of that game doesn’t reflect the fact that Portland had a strong game with 73% possession. However, they had trouble scoring until Jonathan Rodriguez scored in the 80th minute.

The Timbers have numerous members of the Canadian Men’s National Team. They are defenders Kamal Miller and Zack MacGraw and goalkeepers James Pantemis and Maxime Crépeau. Crépeau of course, is one of the biggest villains for Whitecaps fans because he wanted out of Vancouver and was traded to LAFC in the winter of 2022. That was mainly so he could be reunited with former head coach Marc Dos Santos.

Portland will be led by winger Antony and central attacking midfielder Evander. Antony leads the Timbers with three goals so far this season. He is a dynamic winger who is solid at forcing turnovers. Evander on the other hand, is a dangerous creator. Those two are players the Whitecaps should be cautious of.

Keys for the Whitecaps

The first key is for the Whitecaps to start better against Charlotte and Real Salt Lake. While they did manage to score first against RSL with Damir Kreilach’s first Whitecaps goal in MLS play, RSL still hemmed them in their own half at the start of the game and throughout it. Simply put, the Whitecaps need to start better at home.

While the Whitecaps for the most part this season have maintained good defensive structure, the quick counterattacks are what really make it work. Having Fafa Picault back from international duty and Ali Ahmed and Sam Adekugbe healthy (though he will probably come off the bench) helps as they have pace.

Portland has conceded nine goals so far this season which is tied for eighth most in MLS in this young season. The Whitecaps need to make sure they put pressure on Portland’s players when they have the ball to start a quick counter as the Timbers have been leaky at the back so far.

The second key is to maintain the structure. Portland will come into the Whitecaps box quickly, especially Evander and Antony. Vancouver needs to remain calm and composed when defending.

Having Andres Cubas back in the midfield also helps the structure. He was sorely missed against RSL as he was on international duty.

The Whitecaps are expecting a crowd of over 23,000 and that will be the fifth straight home game dating back to last season. They have gone 0-2-2 in those games and they need to prove to their crowds that they are worth the price of admission.

Other notes

Brian White was taken off in the second half against Real Salt Lake as a concussion substitute. According to Har Johal of Daily Hive, the American striker did some light running on the side in training and is questionable for Saturday against Portland as he is in concussion protocol.

Sartini also said to the media on Wednesday that there are many stages of concussion protocol and they will continue to evaluate White but was also unsure if he could play on Sunday.