By Eric Schulte
With just seven wins over 32 matches played, the Portland Timbers are struggling to find a bright spot in the 2012 season. The tumultuous release of head John Spencer in early July only added instability and pressure to players’ workloads. Several notable injuries also plagued the team through 2012 as well including Kris Boyd’s strained right adductor and Donovan Ricketts’ separated left shoulder. But, after all the hardships experienced by the squad this season, a single prize remains at the end of the race: the Cascadia Cup. The Timbers have claimed the cup twice, in 2009 and 2010.
“[The Cascadia Cup] is very, very important the way our season has gone. Our fans deserve a lot, lot more, to be honest. That’s what I’m most disappointed about, to be honest,” said Portland interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson after the Oct. 7 loss. “We have such tremendous support and such great fans – we saw a lot of them here tonight – but they deserve a little bit more. I’m disappointed.”
Highly contested every year since its creation in 2004, the Cascadia Cup race this season remains tight until the end. The Sounders currently head up the group with nine points and all of their six Cup matches played. The Timbers sit in second place with eight points, and the Whitecaps round out the group with three. With a win against the Whitecaps in Vancouver on Sunday, the Timbers can snag a last minute cup title. A draw does the Timbers no good, as Seattle has outscored Portland 5-3 over the course of three meetings this season.
A Sunday night victory will be no easy task however. The Whitecaps have gone 12-11-9 this season, and with a win on Sunday the team will clinch the fifth Western Conference playoff spot. It would be the team’s first ever MLS playoff appearance. Adding to the uphill challenge against the scrappy playoff contender, Portland has yet to win on the road this year after 16 attempts.
“It’s just another box we can tick off to say, ‘Yes we’ve done that. Now we can move forward.’ I’m sure everyone in the Northwest understands the importance of this competition,” Wilkinson said regarding the Cup.
Both teams participating in Sunday’s match have respective glories on the line. Portland longs for its first ever trophy in the MLS era, and Vancouver needs a key playoff appearance to cement success for the club’s first three seasons. The challenge for the Timbers remains the same: executing play correctly, retaining composure on the road and not breaking down during the second half. Vancouver must realize the significance of this match, while at the same time not let the high stakes negatively influence performance.