PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Timbers head coach John Spencer had a serious talk with his players Friday morning.
The topic of conversation? The Timbers' first Cascadia Cup match of the season Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps at JELD-WEN Field (10 pm ET, TSN/RDS2 in Canada, MLS Live in US).
As for what was said?
“I’m not going to tell you that,” Spencer said.
But even if Spencer held the exact words to close to the vest, the message is clear: win the Cup.
“I just said the Cascadia rivalry is in the history of the three clubs for a long time, and it’s important that we do well in it,” Spencer said. “It’s almost like a little mini competition within Major League Soccer. So it’s bragging rights obviously for the fans, bragging rights to be at the top of the Cascadia Cup at the end of the year.”
He said it doesn’t take long for the rivalry among Portland, Seattle and Vancouver to get into your blood. All you have to do, he said, is be on the field in the hours before the game to soak in the frenzied atmosphere.
“You realize that it’s very, very important to a lot of people,” Spencer said. “Obviously for the players, they want to put a good show on. And we want to make sure that in the first big derby game of the year that we’re getting maximum points, especially at home.”
And this year, Cascadia has taken on a different look.
Vancouver’s only points last year in their four matches against Portland and Seattle came in a 2-2 tie against the Sounders. The 'Caps finished last in the Western Conference, struggling all year.
But this season, the Whitecaps are on 18 points, just five behind Seattle for third place in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
Portland are six points behind Vancouver. And the Timbers players said that only heightens the implications.
“There’s always a little bit more energy in those matches,” Timbers captain Jack Jewsbury said. “They mean a little bit more not only to us but to the fans and the club. For us, you can see the passion around the stadium, and hopefully that translates to on the field. And another three points gets us right back in the mix if you look at the standings.”
And an argument could be made that Portland’s biggest match of the season so far is coming at a good time. A number of previously injured players are rounding into full health, while the team has taken away points in their last three games – including a 2-1 home win last Sunday over the Chicago Fire.
Midfielders Kalif Alhassan and Sal Zizzo and defender David Horst, all players who have missed significant time this year, played in Portland’s friendly Wednesday against Valencia CF. Defenders Mamadou “Futty” Danso and Jewsbury also are recovering from injuries and could suit up against Vancouver.
“It’s exciting,” Jewsbury said. “These are the games as players that you circle at the beginning of the year. The guys are up for it, obviously. A good win last weekend and we want to keep going on the right track.”
And after Seattle took the Cascadia Cup last year, Saturday marks the Timbers' first step toward bringing it to the Rose City.
“When it comes to the Cascadia Cup, we want to win it this year,” Danso said.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.