Second, let's take a look at Sunday's matchup from the Timbers perspective.
We saw last week in their 1-0 against Carolina that Portland isn't interested in coasting into the playoffs. There's still plenty to play for: both the shot to finish top of the standings, and the Timbers would love to avoid trips to Puerto Rico, Miami, or Carolina in the first round of the playoffs (though playing the Whitecaps in the first round of the playoffs has its own downside). I don't, unfortunatly, have any updates on the injuries to Andrew Gregor, Neil Dombrowski, or Shaun Higgins, though there's no way I'd risk any of them (especially Gregor) tomorrow if they weren't completely fit.
I wrote yesterday about the weight of history against the Timbers, but there's more. If Portland can get a win or a draw tomorrow, they'd win the season series with Vancouver for the first time since 1980, when they won both matches (the closest in the modern era was a 3-3 record in 2003). Also, with a win or a draw, that would mean the Timbers earned three consecutive results versus Vancouver in one season, and that hasn't happened since the NASL Timbers first season in 1975, when they won all three games.
So what's the key to beating the Whitecaps? We've already seen this year they play a defensive, posession style, and like to slowly build pressure before striking. The Timbers suceeded by holding the ball, knocking around, but also by being aggressive and moving quickly in the attacking third. Portland can't afford to hold onto the ball near the box; the Whitecaps swarm and take it away. I'll be looking for Portland's wide players, and especially Leonard Griffin and Scot Thompson coming forward, to get aggressive and send dangerous balls into the box. The Timbers need to heap on pressure, and not be shy to pull the trigger when they've got a look at goal. Defensively, make sure Martin Nash doesn't get time on the ball in the attacking half (a responsibility that might fall to Tom Poltl), and don't sit back too much and let Vancouver dictate the pace of the game.
This Portland team is built to grind out 1-0 results on the road with solid defense and opprotunistic attackers. The longer grass at Swanguard Stadium might neutralize the speed of Bryan Jordan and Matt Taylor (like it always did to Hugo Alcaraz-Cuellar and Byron Alvarez), so look for Chris Bagley (if fully healthy) to step up and create problems with his size and skill. But, same as we preached in their first matchup this year, the Timbers have to keep their heads if Vancouver gets up a goal, and not fold like so many of their predecessors have done in the bucolic setting of Burnaby, British Columbia.
That's all from me until tomorrow. Remember, our Toyota pregame show goes live at 3:45 pm, and as always we'll be available on AOL Instant Messanger with the screen name "timbersradio".