...before the real war starts.
The Timbers are just over 48 hours away from their regular season finale against the Vancouver Whitecaps. No introduction needed for a rivalry game like this, but I'll do one anyway.
Vancouver has had a weird season. Defending league champs, they extended their unbeaten run to 16 games early in the season, until a 1-0 home loss to Carolina on May 25. Before that game, they were 5-0-2 to start the year. Including that game, the Whitecaps went 2-6-5 through the end of July. By that time, which is also the roster freeze, the Whitecaps had brought in 5 new players, and sent 3 away in trades, including last year's USL First Division MVP, Joey Gjertson.
What's even more bizarre has been the goalkeeper carousel the Whitecaps have been riding this year. Josh Wicks, as you might know, was their backup last year, before coming to Portland and setting the world on fire. Oh, how Vancouver must rue losing him now...last year's starter, Tony Caig, was their No. 1 until June 20, when he abruptly left to go home to England (interesting story on what he's doing now...you'll have to tune in Sunday to hear it though). His backup, the Serbian "Serge" Djekanovic, was sent to Toronto FC in the first week of the season. The man listed as No. 3 to start the year, local boy Tyler Baldcock, apparantly vanished, because he never made an appearance. The Whitecaps brought in former Toronto Lynx netminder Richard Goddard at the start of the year, then signed football vagabond Lutz Pfannnenstiel on July 3rd. Just two weeks ago, they signed Harrisburg City's (USL-2 winners) Matt Nelson on loan, and he played last week against Minnesota. If I had to guess, I'd say he starts tonight versus Atlanta, but who knows.
That being said, this team is still the defending league champs. They have 7 players on their roster with 5 or more years of experience just with this team. By comparison, the longest tenured Timber (outside of Gavin Wilkinson, of course), is Lee Morrison (thanks Diane!), who's in his 5th year with the team. Also worth noting is this: since 2001, the Timbers are 1-11-1 at Burnaby's Swanguard Stadium, with 9 goals scored and 25 against. The Whitecaps gorgeous forest-lined stadium has been a house of horrors for the Timbers.
Can they buck the trend of history? Can Portland win their second Commisioner's Cup as regular season champions? Will they be back in Burnaby four days later for the first leg of the playoffs? These questions and more answered Sunday afternoon, starting with our Toyota pregame show at 3:45 pm, live at http://www.portlandtimbers.com/.
Saturday night I'll preview the match from the Timbers perspective.
Editorial note: I'm not travelling with the team this weekend; I'm instead using the trip to spend time with some relatives in Seattle either side of the game. But, I'll be driving up Sunday with Aaron Heinzen, so you'll be able to enjoy his expert analysis during the broadcast.