VANCOUVER – The illustrious history of professional soccer in the Pacific Northwest closes another chapter on Saturday when the MLS-bound Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers meet for a final time in the North American D-2.
This weekend’s match will provide a preview of things to come in next year’s northwest derby. Both clubs have spent this season building towards their Major League Soccer debuts, but in very different manners.
The Timbers have maintained the core of their team throughout the season, only recently adding a few complimentary players. As far as coaching is concerned, Portland felt that they needed someone with MLS experience, deciding to hire former Houston Dynamo assistant coach John Spencer to lead them into 2011. Current head coach Gavin Wilkinson will move on to a role as Technical Director.
Vancouver have taken a different approach in building their squad. An influx of new players recruited by former D.C. United head coach Tom Soehn, now Whitecaps director of soccer operations, has given the club a decidedly global feel.
"Everybody’s fighting to be with the team in MLS,” head coach Teitur Thordason told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s not easy for them to see new faces in training every day. But they have been very professional about it and I'm very thankful for that, otherwise we wouldn't have been performing as well as we've been doing."
Even with such a large degree of turnover, there remains a sense of stability within the team after the announcement earlier this month that Thordason would stay on as head coach for the club’s inaugural MLS season.
The regional rivalry between Vancouver and Portland, which dates back to the 1970s, will continue on the MLS stage next season, and will likely extend to include fellow northwest adversaries Seattle Sounders. Enthusiasm is soaring for 2011, with the Whitecaps having already sold more than 14,000 season tickets and the Timbers reportedly on pace to eclipse the 10,000 mark by year end.
But for now, the focus remains on USSF-D2, where the Whitecaps and Timbers share a common goal: go out in style. Vancouver captain Martin Nash says that despite the eye towards the future, the objective of their second division curtain call is clear.
"It’s still our goal to win a championship with this team," he said.
The quest for a fond farewell starts Saturday when they play host to the Timbers in their final regular-season game at Swangard Stadium before gearing up for the USSF-D2 playoffs. If results break the right way, the clubs could meet again in the first round.
But when the final whistle blows on the second division season, the countdown to MLS officially begins.