Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Portland Timbers Prediction, Preview and Odds - 4/18/21
The Vancouver Whitecaps open up their 2021 MLS season as they head south of the border to take on the Portland Timbers in Rio Tinto Stadium in Utah. The Whitecaps are coming off a season that saw them finish 17th in the league and fail to qualify for the post-season for the third straight year. On the flip side, the Timbers finished 8th in MLS last year but lost in the opening round of the MLS Playoffs. The Timbers continue to set the bar high as a franchise, especially given the young talent they have, while Vancouver is really focused on getting themselves just into a position to get into the playoffs year after year. Which team will be able to start off the season with a bang as MLS gets the season underway?
Whitecaps Looking For Improvement
After making the MLS Playoffs in 2017 after finishing 3rd overall in the Western Conference, the Whitecaps have fallen on hard times of late, finishing 14th in 2018, 23rd in 2019, and 17th last year. Over the last two years, the improvement has been noticeable and another step up for Marcos Dos Santos’ team could mean a return to the playoffs in 2021. As a Candian team, Vancouver also has the Canadian Championships to worry about as well which allows them another tournament to use to build up their confidence. Dos Santos is now in his third year as head coach and another season without a playoff appearance might mean the end of his tenure when it’s all said and done.
Last year’s leading scorer was Lucas Cavallini with six goals, while 2019’s leading scorer was Fredy Montero with eight goals. Montero will be missed now that he’s moved onto Seattle, but Cavallini is still in town and excited to build off his strong 2020 season and continue to bear more of the brunt of the goal-scoring opportunities. Vancouver made a crucial move in the off-season, bringing in defender Bruno Gaspar from Europe. Gaspar is a former Portuguese youth international who has made four senior appearances for Angola since 2019. He’ll instantly come in as one of the most experienced players in the starting lineup, having spent time with world-renowned clubs over the last five years such as Fiorentina, Sporting CP, and Olympiacos. Ali Adnan continues to be another leader of the club from the back as the Iraqi National team player has the ability to get forward in the attack, along with Jake Nerwiski on the other side, to create crosses into the box and scoring opportunities upfront.
The Whitecaps struggled to score last year and should get some help from David Egbo, their first-round draft selection from January’s event. The former Akron standout had seven goals and four assists during the 2019 collegiate season and was All-Region and All-Conference after being an All-American in 2018. Vancouver also drafted Jamaican youth international Javain Brown, who should add some much-needed depth at the outside back position.
Timbers Putting Sour Finish Behind Them
After finishing third in the Western Conference last year, the Timbers lost a heartbreaker to FC Dallas at home, losing in penalty kicks 8-7 in the one-legged playoff, and will look to put that experience behind them. The Timbers are still looking to get their second title since 2015, despite having some successful teams, including finishing runner-up just two years ago. Giovanni Savarese has been a great manager over the last few years but the Timbers front office is looking for more than just an MLS Is Back tournament title from last year of postseason collapses, which seems to be the norm since Caleb Porter left. The pressure will be on the staff and the players this year to not only have a strong regular season but to perform in the postseason. The Timbers also have their eyes set on the CONCACAF Champions League where they just won their Round of 16 matchups against Hondorun club, Marathon. These additional games will make lineup selections even more important as Savarese tries to keep his team fresh.
The Timbers are blessed with one of the most experienced goal scorers and young goal scorers in the league. Diego Valeri has made 213 appearances with 80 goals for Portland over his career and will continue to be one of the most difficult players to stop in the league after scoring nine goals last year. As if stopping Valeri wasn’t enough for opposing back lines to worry about, 2017 draft pick Jeremy Ebobisse has strung together an impressive last few years, appearing in 52 matches and scoring 22 total goals over the last two years. The Timbers also didn’t waste much time in the off-season, bringing in Argentinian youth international Claudio Bravo in the offseason to help bolster the defense. Adding in Bravo in the back, along with Valeri and Ebobissee upfront, takes some of the pressure off of experienced midfielders Diego Chara and Sebastian Blanco.
January’s SuperDraft saw the Timbers pick up a rangy midfielder in Dawson McCartney out of Dartmouth who likely will start the season with Timbers 2 but has the athleticism to make a difference at the next level if called upon. Homegrown signee Eryk Williamson has the ability to be an x-factor this season for Portland as he expects to get more playing time after a successful collegiate career at Maryland.
The Whitecaps made some great moves in the offseason between bringing guys in on new contracts and the SuperDraft picks, but they still lack an attacking presence to keep up with a team like Portland. The Timbers won both meetings last year and have won three in a row in the series overall and between Valeri and Ebobisse, shouldn’t have any trouble getting goals against a Vancouver backline that likes to get forward and leave themselves open and exposed in the back. While the Gaspar pickup was great for the Whitecaps, the Timbers brought in their own international talent to match that on the backline and give them a little more speed and versatility. Portland will start the season off with a crucial win over Vancouver to start their road towards the rest of the MLS season.
Pick: Portland (-155)
Vancouver will struggle to score on their own based on the limited options they have going forward, and while Portland will definitely get some goals, the fact that it’s the first game of the season is tough to think both teams will be filling up the scoreboard. The game might not have a great flow and will probably be choppy as the teams get their legs under them as well. In the last five meetings between Portland and Vancouver, four goals have only been scored once, so the under should easily hit in this one.
Pick: Under 3.5