Timbers host Whitecaps in pivotal regular season finale (Oct 22, 2017)
MLS schedule makers couldn't have set up a juicier matchup on the final day of the regular season.
There's playoff seeding at stake. There's home-field advantage on the line. And there's bragging rights among three proud franchises that will be decided.
No doubt the Cascadia rivalry match between the Vancouver Whitecaps (15-11-7, 52 points) and Portland Timbers (14-11-8, 50 points) will take on a playoff atmosphere on Sunday at Providence Park in Portland, Ore.
The two teams are atop the Western Conference with Vancouver holding a two-point cushion. With a win or a draw, the Whitecaps will earn the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage through most of the playoffs. The Whitecaps also receive an automatic berth to the conference semifinals
A Vancouver victory gives Seattle the Cascadia Cup and keeps the Timbers from claiming their fourth cup.
If Portland beats Vancouver, the Timbers will vault ahead of Vancouver and get the much-coveted bye and claim the cup for the first time since 2012.
If they lose, the Timbers could fall as low as fourth in the West and be forced to play a midweek knockout game.
"The way I see it, playoffs start this Sunday," Timbers coach Caleb Porter told the Portland Oregonian. "That's the way we're going to approach it. Obviously, if we win the game, we shave off a game in the playoffs. ... That's where we want to be."
A loss drops the Whitecaps to second or third and possibly into a midweek knockout game. The top two teams in the conference get a bye in the playoffs.
The Timbers have been sizzling at home. They've won five straight games. They are 10-2-4 at Providence and have not lost there since dropping a 4-1 decision to Real Salt Lake on July 19.
They've outscored the opposition 14-2 during their winning streak. Confidence in the Portland locker room is sky high after a 4-0 shellacking of D.C. United.
As usual, Diego Valeri paced the Whitecaps' offense with a goal and two assists. With the assists, he became just the second player in MLS history to reach at least 20 goals and 10 assists in a single season.
The Whitecaps have lost only four times in their 17 outings since July 5, but recent struggles -- one win in four games -- has them heading toward the postseason trying to find a spark and regain momentum.
They squandered a chance to clinch the Western Conference title last week when San Jose's Valeri Qazaishvili got the equalizer for the Earthquakes in the 77th minute, and San Jose and Vancouver played to a 1-1 draw. The win kept Earthquakes in the postseason race.
"Listen, there's no pressure on us," coach Carl Robinson said. "We're at the top of the table and everyone's trying to knock us down, which is fine. But we're happy we're there. We'd prefer to be there than fifth or sixth, and hanging on to our playoff lives.
"We've been in the playoffs for three games. We know we've got to go to Portland, difficult place to go to. They're a good team, we know that. It should be a good game, it's all set up nicely."
Vancouver has lost three of their last five road league games and been held scoreless in all three of the losses. The Whitecaps also have lost twice to the Timbers this season.
To have a chance, the Whitecaps will have to defend Valerio, who set an MLS record by scoring in nine straight games. He is second in the Golden Boot race with 21 goals (Chicago's Nemanja Nikolic has 24) and is an MVP candidate.
"If you can give your best on the field and if you have the opportunity to have success in what you do, show humility and put that into the locker room," Valeri said, adding he is humbled to be considered along with David Villa as the top player in the league.
Kendall Waston could play an integral role in the outcome of the game. The Vancouver captain is physical and imposing who is more than capable of keeping Valerio in check.
Forward Yordy Reyna has come up big for Vancouver while other Whitecaps have struggled. In just 10 starts this season, the 24-year-old from Peru has six goals and three assists -- four of those goals have come in the past month.
"They're a difficult opponent," Porter said. "They've always been an organized team defensively with a good goalkeeper and very good center backs in (Kendall) Waston and (Tim) Parker and, as a team, they are organized and tough to break down. I think the difference this year is they're more dynamic and creative in the attack."