MLS Playoff Preview and Prediction: Portland Timbers vs Vancouver Whitecaps

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

Match Preview

Portland Timbers host the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Cascadia rivals’ first ever MLS Playoff clash on Sunday night in their Western Conference semifinal first leg.

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.

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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.

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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.

Team News

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.

Key Points

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.

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Score Prediction

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.

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Portland Timbers sign five players in major reshuffle

The Portland Timbers have signed five players today in a major reshuffle as they reshape their squad ahead of the new season.

Veteran defender Nat Borchers joined in a trade from Real Salt Lake for allocation money, while Ghanaian international goalkeeper Adam Larsen Kwarasey, Colombian winger Dairon Asprilla and Brazilian left-back Jeanderson Salvador Pereira were also signed.

The Timbers exercised their purchase option on Jamaican fullback Alvas Powell on Monday too in a busy day for the club.

Borchers will undoubtedly strengthen a Timbers defence that allowed 52 goals in 34 games in 2014 – the sixth-worst amount across MLS. He could form a solid partnership with Englishman Liam Ridgewell for the Western Conference side.

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Norwegian born goalkeeper Kwarasey joins the club from Strømsgodset of the Tippeligaen and is an experienced shot-stopper at both club and country levels.

The 26-year-old, who won the Tippeligaen Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2013, made over 150 appearances for the club. He has represented the Ghanaian national team 21 times at international level too, and played in the World Cup game against the USA in June.

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Asprilla joins Portland from Colombian Primera División side Alianza Petrolera and at just 22, is an exciting signing. Primarily a right-winger, the Colombian will hope to impress in his debut campaign next season.

Brazilian Jeanderson is another signing to bolster the Timbers backline and the left-back adds further youth at just 23 years of age.

Portland also exercised the option to purchase defender Powell from Jamaican side Portmore United. The 20-year-old has signed a “long-term contract” with the Timbers and will hope to add to his 15 games played in 2014.

What do you make of Portland’s signings on Monday?