View from the Inside: Vancouver's home field advantage?
Editor's Note: We once again return to our colleagues at ProstAmerika.com, a website based in Seattle and devoted to American soccer through the lens of the Pacific Northwest region.
Their Vancouver correspondent Michael McColl gives us an inside look at where the Whitecaps are at this stage in the season and what role BC Place could have in the match. Michael's musings on all things Whitecaps can also be read in his part blog, part fanzine Away From The Numbers.
There are no meaningless Cascadia Cup games. Let no-one tell you otherwise.
This year’s silverware may have unfortunately already been won last Saturday by Seattle, but there will always be Cascadian pride to play for. That is the mantra from many in Vancouver in the build-up to this Sunday’s showdown between the Timbers and the Whitecaps at the newly renovated BC Place (1:30 pm PT, ROOT SPORTS, 750 AM The Game, La Pantera 940 AM).
This may read as clutching at straws, but that would be because it is. The 2011 season has not been a happy one in Whitecapland. Getting at least one win against Vancouver’s Cascadian rivals would be scant consolation, but at least it would be some form of consolation. For Portland, there is also the matter of a playoff place still up for grabs. How many would have taken that over Cascadia Cup glory at the start of the season? Sunday’s encounter had promised so much and I don’t think many fans would have expected it to count for nothing in deciding the fate of this year’s trophy.
However, Timbers fans who are expecting a relatively easy three points this weekend may be surprised. They should face a more competitive, and seemingly hungry, team than the one they disposed of fairly easily in the humidity and heat at JELD-WEN Field in August.
The Whitecaps players are hurting from last week’s defeat against the Sounders at Empire Field and have publically stated that they feel they let the fans down. It’s never easy to play against a wounded team in such conditions, let alone your local rivals.
There is no doubt that Vancouver have struggled in their inaugural MLS season. Many look at the players in their squad, and the way they have played and competed in most games this season, and are baffled. The quality is most certainly there and it is a surprise to many that they are where they are right now. Defensive woes have been a blight, as has been the inability to hold on to leads and avoid conceding in the latter stages of games. These are all factors which the Timbers need to exploit if their playoff push is to continue apace.
At the other end of the pitch, the result of the game could hinge on the performances of Eric Hassli and Camilo da Silva Sanvezzo. The two strikers are responsible for 19 of the Whitecaps MLS goal tally this season. That’s two thirds of their overall total of 29. Although key and instrumental to the Whitecaps attacking danger, it has been rare this season that both players seem to be on their game at the same time. If the Timbers find them clicking on Sunday, they will be a handful.
Camilo has already scored against Portland this season, and the Whitecap is on form, also netting the opener against Seattle last weekend. Eric Hassli has been blowing a bit cold of late, but he is the kind of player you underestimate at your peril. He is goalless in six, but with ten strikes to his credit already this season, he has shown that when he does break his slumps, he does so in some style. If Portland can close down one, or both, of the front two then they will definitely have the upper hand, as they seek to gain only their second away win of the season.
The unknown factor in the mix is BC Place itself. What impact playing at their new home will bring is debatable.
For long term Whitecaps supporters, returning to BC Place is tinged with nostalgia. The Caps saw out their original NASL era in 1983 and 1984 at the then newly constructed stadium. Seattle were the visitors that day. It’s nice that Portland play first foots this time around. Despite a rivalry between the two sides going back to 1975, the NASL Timbers never played at BC Place, folding the season before the Whitecaps moved to their new home.
BC Place may be home turf for the Whitecaps but it is unknown turf at that, and it will be nearly as alien a venue for the home side as the visitors. This is one game where home field advantage will count for little. The Caps will have the benefit of having seen and trained on the new Polytan pitch, but only a little.
The new playing surface is considered by many, including FIFA, to be a top-flight turf. At an estimated cost of $1.2 million, the pitch should gain a FIFA 2 Star certification, which is the highest awarded by the game’s governing body (Editor’s Note: JELD-WEN Field’s FieldTurf has achieved the 2 Star rating).
With Canadian Football League side BC Lions opening the stadium with a game on Friday evening, the Whitecaps will not have a lot of time to prepare or get used to their new surroundings. Torrential rain earlier in the week saw some leaks in the expensive new roof and some soaked seats and turf. Everything should be good to go come Sunday.
Unfamiliarity aside, the Whitecaps will be roared on by a large crowd and will be keen to mark their first match at BC Place in the same way that they marked their debut match at Empire Field, and the first match of their MLS era. That day it was national pride at stake, with Vancouver clinically beating Toronto 4-2. They will be hoping for the same again in the Cascadian bragging stakes and if they can put a spanner in the works of Portland’s playoff push, then it will be a double whammy.
Whatever the outcome on Sunday, the one thing we can definitely guarantee just now is that with 20,000+ Whitecaps fans and over 500 travelling Portland supporters, the atmosphere will be electric, and if the rain comes, and the roof is closed, this will only intensify proceedings.
The game may count for nothing with regards to Cascadia Cup points and standings, but it will most certainly be a spectacle and a match which promises 90 minutes of passion and fight from both sides, both on and off the pitch.
This may be the friendliest of the Cascadian derbies, but it is no less competed.