PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Timbers' match Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps at JELD-WEN Field (10:30 pm ET; watch LIVE online) is more than just one game.
“It’s everything,” Timbers interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson said.
The Timbers are in the driver’s seat to win the Cascadia Cup, the mini competition among the three MLS teams from the Pacific Northwest. They have four points from two games, tied with the Seattle Sounders but with a game in hand.
And with two matches against both Vancouver and Seattle left to come, Saturday’s meeting marks the start of a meaningful stretch for a struggling Timbers side.
“When you start to look at it, it’s a way to repay the fans for showing up game in and game out and giving it their all,” Wilkinson said. “It’s a challenge for us to repay them. So with the Cascadia Cup the rivalry is one thing, but to win the games is very, very important to us.”
Wilkinson said there was a high level of optimism displayed by the players during a video session before Friday training at JELD-WEN.
“This is a chance for us to place a level of emphasis and importance on something that is very important to us and very important to the fans,” Wilkinson said. “And it’s a way to show them that the season isn’t lost.”
Team captain and midfielder Jack Jewsbury said every Cascadia Cup game comes hardwired with extra incentive. But for this game, with the team knowing it’s their only light at the end of the tunnel now that the playoffs are all but out of reach, there’s an added sense of urgency.
“I think, come the final 10 games of the season, we’re obviously disappointed with where we stand in the playoffs standings,” Jewsbury said. “But for us there’s another trophy in the Cascadia Cup, and it’s important for the fans and the organization as well.”
The good news is that the Timbers come in on a relatively good run of form, scoring four goals in two games last week and looking like a cohesive attacking unit for the first time all season.
“It’s important for us to stay unified as a group,” Wilkinson said. “And this is something for us to wrap our hands around and do well with. And for us, it’s a very, very important competition. And even if the season were going extremely well, this still ranks as something that is important for the players and the organization.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org