The Vancouver Whitecaps’ desire to climb out of the Western Conference basement coincides with their hunger to hurt an old rival as the Portland Timbers visit BC Place for the second Cascadia Cup clash of the 2019 season on MLS Friday Night on TSN (10 pm ET | TSN1 — Full TV & streaming info).
“If we're able to get the full three points Friday night, we're in the top seven, where we want to be at the end of the season,” head coach Marc Dos Santos told media on Thursday. “We have to have little objectives every week and every month, and our [current] objective is that.”
Though the ‘Caps currently sit second from bottom in the West with nine points from their first 10 matches, a win over the Timbers would push them above the playoff line and leapfrog the Rose City side and three other foes, at least until the rest of the MLS Week 11 results roll in.
It’s a useful carrot for a rebuilding side hungry to taste some rewards after stumbling to an 0-4-2 start to the campaign.
“Early in the season you want to focus a lot on performances and to see growth from game to game. But at the same time you need to have an eye on the standings and where you are, and you don't want to fall behind,” said veteran midfielder Andy Rose. “Being the only game tomorrow, if we win, we’ll be in a playoff position, and then obviously we’ll see what happens on Saturday. That’s massive incentive for us.”
Portland, too, struggled out of the gates this spring, in part due to their lengthy season-opening run of road games while Providence Park’s expansion and renovation is completed. Now they’ve won three straight – combine that with Vancouver’s promising 2-1-1 stretch, and you have the makings of a memorable Pacific Northwest throwdown.
“It's definitely going to be an all-out battle. We expect that with them every year, every game,” said ‘Caps fullback Jake Nerwinski. “We're both in good form right now, we're both playing our best football – I think – of the year, and it’s going to be a great game, great Cascadia rivalry.
“In these kind of games you do get up a bit more, and we hope that the fans get up a bit more. We hope that they come out, we hope that they're rowdy,” he added. “I think that they could really be our 12th man on the field.”
A major talking point in Vancouver this week: The Whitecaps having conceded a league-leading six penalty kicks, all of them successfully converted. Considering they’ve allowed 14 goals total, stopping that trend is a pressing priority.
“I think it's been almost half our goals [conceded],” said Nerwinski. “If we can minimize our penalty kicks, I think we show that we have a really good defensive team.”
Noted Dos Santos: “Everything happens in a split second, the decision-making, and we have to do a better job there. ... It's the first time in my career that there's so many penalty shots inside 10 games. So it’s new and we’re learning with it. it’s a question of focus but also awareness of where you are.”