Match Preview: Whitecaps FC in the "Rivalry Week" spotlight

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Well, would you look at that? For once, it’s not the American teams hogging all the Cascadia Cup spotlight during the Major League Soccer marketing-palooza that is “Rivalry Week”. (Fun fact: supporters don’t need to be told who to hate. We can figure that out all on our own.)

On Sunday, the resurgent Vancouver Whitecaps FC arrive in the madhouse that is Providence Park in Portland to write the latest chapter in the never-ending feud for Pacific primacy versus the Timbers. It’s a great chance for the ‘Caps to cement their position atop the Cascadia Cup standings and to remind American audiences that we exist.

Matchup

Venue: Providence Park, Portland

Time: Sunday, May 22nd @ 1:30 p.m.

TV: TSN1, ESPN

Radio: TSN 1040

The Magic Number is 12

It’s amazing how statistics work. Over time, everything normalizes. Superstitious sports fans may refer to it as “karma for [insert good/bad thing here]”. Number crunchers would trot out phrases like “regression towards the mean”.

Me? I’m just happy the ‘Caps are in third place in both the Western Conference and the Supporters’ Shield leaderboards.

(As an aside, how bonkers is it that the west outright owns the Shield race at the one-third mark? You’d think eastern teams would have the advantage as they play themselves — their weaker selves — more often. Evidently not.)

Remember how the ‘Caps couldn’t buy a goal from the run of play? Heck, their only goal-scorer was briefly the Golden Boot leader on penalty kicks alone. Not anymore; that has since changed in dramatic fashion.

Remember how consistent performances from week-to-week were mythical in their rarity? Oh, hello, three wins in eight days including smacking four goals past an allegedly improved Toronto FC defense. Glad you stopped by. Stay a while, won’t you?

With a maximum nine points of nine available in the bag, Vancouver could go twelve-for-twelve with a win against Portland. Earlier in the season, you’d be forgiven for scoffing, eye-rolling, grumbling and/or crying at that prospect. Now, a four-win streak seems a believable possibility.

So much for karmic regression.

Norway Calling

Hands up if you thought Erik Hurtado would still be a Whitecap after his 2014 form vanished from memory? Exactly. The Oregon native has seen his stock plummet since a torrid goal-scoring pace culminated with a jaw-dropping goal against the Seattle Sounders.

After his performance against Toronto FC last week — and with injuries forcing head coach Carl Robinson’s hand — Hurtado has made himself relevant again. Robinson’s unexpected 4-4-1-1 allowed Hurtado, Kekuta Manneh and captain Pedro Morales to put themselves in positions that play to their strengths. The results were wonderful.

Clearly, Hurtado’s loan stint in Norway last season has done wonders for the mercurial forward. He’s got a real opportunity this weekend in front of friends, family and boisterous supporters to prove to everyone — most of all himself — that rumours of his demise were premature.

And yes, this is me trying to eat crow about Hurtado as professionally as possible.

Boot, Meet Throat

One of my common criticisms last season was the lack of a killer instinct when the ‘Caps had a lead. Early in the 2015 season, a one-goal lead was never a safe thing. Lapses of concentration were too common and as a result key points were dropped.

As 2015 rolled on, things changed. Leads were killed off either with stubborn possession or clinical, timely goal-scoring. Opposing attacks were blunted, frustrated and otherwise snuffed out thanks to defensive stalwarts Matías Laba and Kendall Waston.

At long last, the metaphorical boot was being lowered on the metaphorical throat. Well, until it wasn’t.

Vancouver limped into and quickly out of the 2015 playoffs, hitting a rough patch of form at the worst possible time. The killer instinct vanished and with it went the post-season. Meanwhile, a team that did have form and a boot-on-throat mentality screamed through the playoffs to an unlikely MLS Cup — one that I’m sure we’ll never stop hearing the end of.

Guess which team that was? Correct, the Portland Timbers, propped up entirely by the goals of Fanendo Adi and the playmaking of Diego Valeri. (I refuse to acknowledge how crucial Diego Chara’ two-way prowess was and is to the Timbers’ success because [expletive] that guy.)

And would you look at that, Portland’s magical (cough lucky cough) ride appears to be over as the champs currently sit in 9th place in the Western Conference.

Shine up those boots and aim for the trachea, boys.

Prediction

3-1 Vancouver. The Whitecaps are absolutely flying right now and we all know how much the Cascadia Cup brings out their best. While the same goes for Portland, the Timbers are struggling right now and the ‘Caps aren’t. Also, I’ve learned my lesson from the Toronto FC preview and I’m back to putting my money on the good guys. (If this backfires, I blame Portland.)

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Rituro Podcast DP of "From The Backline". Soccer and hockey fan. Lifelong gamer. Irrepressible nerd. #YYJ
@ThatRituroGuy

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