BEAVERTON, Ore. – At a recent training session leading up to the Portland Timbers' match Sunday against Cascadia rival Vancouver, interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson remarked on the Whitecaps' recent 4-0 victory over Chivas USA.
Saying the 'Caps have “not had great results leading into Sunday’s game,” Wilkinson said their Chivas win – Vancouver’s first in their last eight matches – came against a last-place side with nothing left to play for.
Portland, like Chivas, have long been out of the playoff race and sit just a point above the Goats in the Western Conference standings. But Wilkinson said Vancouver had better expect something very different out of his side on Sunday (7 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
“Hopefully they expect to know that they’re going to get a different team in the Portland Timbers, and they know we have something to play for,” Wilkinson said.
And it’s not just pride, Wilkinson said.
Of course, he’s referring to the Cascadia Cup, which Portland can win with a victory in Sunday’s match at BC Place. And the pressure is most certainly on Portland, having squandered chances to win the supporter-created, three-team regional derby after a 1-1 draw against Seattle at home on Sept. 15 and a 3-0 in Seattle on Oct. 7.
“Obviously, there was something lost in translation going into the Seattle game,” Wilkinson said of his team’s lackluster performance at CenturyLink Field. “Now it’s just making sure everyone knows how important this game is. Going into the last game against San Jose [on Oct. 28] is just a matter of pride, but this one means something.”
A Portland loss or tie would not only mean that rival Seattle would retain the Cascadia Cup but also that the Timbers would become just the fifth MLS team to go winless on the road in a season. Portland have not won in 16 games away from JELD-WEN Field, a total that includes 12 losses.
And perhaps a signal that Portland hasn’t yet turned the page on this season, Wilkinson split up Thursday’s session at the team’s training facility with the expectant 18 practicing on the main field. After a physically intense training session on Tuesday and a day off Wednesday, Wilkinson said all their attention and preparation is now on Vancouver.
“We’re actually trying to fine-tune some things,” Wilkinson said.
Defender David Horst, who called out the team for not showing up against Seattle, said there’s a more business-like mood going into Sunday’s game.
“We’ve been working real hard the last two weeks or so, and I think the guys are a lot more prepared and a lot more ready than we were going into Seattle,” Horst said. “We know this is our last chance. This is our last chance at the Cascadia Cup. This is our last chance at getting a road win.”
Wilkinson said he’s been pleased with the attitude his players have shown since the Seattle loss, saying he’s seen a lot of hard work being done on the pitch.
“This game is a very, very important game,” Wilkinson said. “I don’t want to keep bringing up the past as was Seattle and it was disappointing result. … After that result you need to make amends very, very quickly.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.