Competition: MLS Playoffs (Western Conference Semifinal First Leg) – Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps
Venue: Providence Park – Sunday, November 1 – 17:00 ET (22:00 GMT)
Match Odds: Portland 1/1 – Draw 12/5 – Vancouver 11/4
Portland had to go the distance on Thursday night as they beat Sporting Kansas City in the knockout round in a game that went all the way to penalties, with all 22 players taking a spot-kick before Portland made it through, thanks to goalkeeper Adam Larsen Kwarasey’s heroics.
The Timbers will now host the first leg of Sunday’s Western Conference semifinal with rivals Vancouver but have to hope fatigue doesn’t put the tie out of their reach before the second leg next week.
Caleb Porter knows his side have a genuine chance of lifting a first MLS Cup this season but needs to keep his players grounded. Winning the home leg is vital in playoff football and that will be the priority on Sunday night.
Vancouver were able to enjoy a bye week and were therefore able to enjoy watching the knockout round. But all focus will now be on their playoff opener and a trip to Portland presents a stern test for a side that has not yet won in two previous MLS Playoff games.
The Whitecaps sealed second spot in the Western Conference with a 3-0 home win against Houston last Sunday and come into this match as 2015’s best away side in MLS. Although Sunday’s win was their first in six.
They know an away goal could be so valuable and should therefore look to attack Portland on Sunday. That could lead to an open, entertaining game – something we’ve seen in all four 2015 playoff games to this point.
Portland failed to beat the Whitecaps in three attempts during the regular season. Vancouver won 2-1 at BC Place in March before 0-0 and 1-1 draws followed at Providence Park in May and July respectively. The Timbers have only lost once at home to Vancouver in the past six years.
Portland are likely to be without Will Johnson and Ben Zemanski once again here. Maximiliano Urruti was the late hero in extra-time on Thursday but will likely start on the bench again, with Fanendo Adi set to lead the line.
Vancouver Whitecaps have a number of injury worries ahead of their playoff opener. Ben McKendry and Caleb Clarke are definitely out. Cristian Techera and more worryingly, Pedro Morales are both doubts but should be cleared to play. Pa Modou Kah is available to face his former club after completing his one-game suspension on Sunday.
Portland Timbers’ last five: L/W/W/W/W
Vancouver Whitecaps’ last five: D/D/L/L/W
Key Stat: Vancouver have conceded the fewest MLS goals of any side in 2015, with just 36 allowed and boast the best away record in the league.
Key Player: Adam Larsen Kwarasey – Portland’s playoff hero from Thursday night will need to put in another solid performance to give Portland a chance here against a Vancouver side that has fired an average of more than five shots per game – the third highest in MLS.Embed from Getty Images
Portland Timbers 2-1 Vancouver Whitecaps – This is a huge game for Portland. Their playoff hopes likely hang on the result of this as they need to take a victory to Vancouver next week to have a real chance of progressing. The Whitecaps have only scored five goals in their last six outings but should find the net as Portland have struggled to keep clean sheets of late. Though the home side could just edge it by the odd goal to set up a thrilling second leg.