Why Everything Looks So Different In Cascadia

Vancouver, Portland, Seattle have all seen fortunes change in past weeks
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, August 14, 2015

US Soccer Federation (USSF)

Things have changed a lot over the last couple of months in Cascadia, and things aren’t going exactly as expected.

How Vancouver, Seattle and Portland have adjusted to their situations has been drastically different.

It was just early June when the top of the MLS Western Conference was the Cascadia zone. The Sounders and Whitecaps took turns at the top, while the Timbers were hanging around either in second or third. FC Dallas was showing signs of life, Los Angeles was still getting itself organized, and Kansas City was maddeningly inconsistent. While DC United was starting to pull away in the East, Cascadia was leading the way in the West.

Since then, things have changed. Vancouver now leads the West (as of this writing), while Portland has been inconsistent. Seattle, though, has gone into a tail spin that has the Sounders clinging on to the last playoff spot.

What’s happened? In the case of the Whitecaps, not much. While July wasn’t the best, with a win, a draw and two losses, that came after a strong June. August has been solid, as they have another 3-match winning streak going on. That comes after a brutal schedule in June and July, when Vancouver was on the road for a month because of the Women’s World Cup. That makes their staying at or near the top much more impressive.

Thus, the Whitecaps also seem to be very content with their roster. The only player Vancouver brought in during the summer transfer window was Costa Rican defender Jordan Smith, getting him on loan from Saprissa (Costa Rica). Otherwise, they have stayed pat, and will ride the current roster through the end of the season.

Right now, being on top of both MLS West and the Cascadia Cup, that seems to be working for Carl Robinson’s side. With Cristian Techera finding his groove, Pero Morales dominating the midfield, Octavio Rivero scoring regularly and an improving defense, there’s no reason the Whitecaps can’t stay on course for a possible first-round bye in the playoffs. But one stumble and they can get caught quickly by Dallas and the Galaxy. That they also are playing in the CONCACAF Champions League and are trying to win the Canadian Championship this month so they can return to the CCL in 2016-17 will also factor in their MLS pace.

Portland went down a very familiar path to try and boost their team, going to Argentina to get young forward Lucas Melano from Lanus (the club that Diego Valeri came from). However, they lost Gastón Fernández, as he decided to go back to Argentina and play for his former side, Estudiantes. The only other move was a trade with DC United to get young Jamaican forward Michael Seaton, but that likely was more for him to play with the Timbers’ USL club than with the Timbers themselves.

One wonders if Portland should have done more. While Will Johnson and Diego Valeri are steadily getting healthier, the team has become quite inconsistent. The Timbers went a month between wins, with two heavy road losses in to Philadelphia and Dallas mixed in with draws at home to Vancouver and on the road at San Jose. Friday’s home win against Chicago ended that winless run, putting them in fifth place. But outside of Melano, nothing was done to try and strengthen the team.

With Gavin Wilkinson and Caleb Porter trying the well-worn path to Argentina to try and tweak the roster, fans could be forgiven for being a bit impatient. The great run of 2013 is no more than a distant memory, with Portland seemingly trying to go the way of trying to find young (and relatively inexpensive) stars needing the chance to break out. It has worked for some (Valeri, Fanendo Adi), while others seem to be getting lost in Porter’s rotation (Fernández, Maxi Urruti). Rodney Wallace has struggled, Darlington Nagbe can’t seem to find the net and the defense has been inconsistent. If the Timbers struggle to make the playoffs, or end up missing the playoffs altogether, then the futures of Wilkinson and Porter needs to be discussed.

But, it could be worse. Remember when it looked like Seattle was going to run away with the West? That seems to be forever ago. What has happened to the Sounders has been nothing short of stunning. They have lost eight of their last nine matches, and have fallen from a fairly solid first place to trying to hold off Houston for the final playoff spot.

There’s one date that it can be said the freefall began: June 17. That is when the now-infamous US Open Cup match with the Timbers took place. Of course, we remember the meltdown that Clint Dempsey had in extra time, but what was as important was the hamstring injury Oba Martins suffered soon after scoring the goal that sent the match into extra time. Martins hasn’t played since.

With Dempsey, Brad Evans and Marco Pappa going away to the CONCACAF Gold Cup, along with numerous injuries to major players like Stefan Frei, the slide began. Three losses, then a win over East-leading DC United, then five straight losses. The 3-1 road loss to LA Galaxy on Sunday seemed to be the most frustrating, as Chad Barrett injured a hamstring right after scoring a goal in the first minute.

One knew that the Sounders would start making moves, and they did. They brought back Erik Friberg from Esbjerg (Denmark) in late June. Then in the past 10 days, they acquired Austrian midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz from Levante (Spain); got Paraguayan forward Nelson Valdez on a free transfer from Eintracht Frankfurt and signed him to a Designated Player contract; and got defender and Panamanian national captain Roman Torres from Millonarios (Colombia). Those players, along with a healthy Martins, Dempsey, Alonso, Frei, etc. could make Seattle a major factor in the playoffs. They also are fighting with Vancouver to try and get out of their group in the CCL. But, if they don’t, and the Sounders continue to struggle, then the future of Sigi Schmid and his staff becomes very cloudy.

So, it almost seems like business as usual in Cascadia. Vancouver is happy with their team, Portland brings in a young player from Argentina and Seattle signs a number of well-known players to try and mesh in with their star-studded lineup. But with just over two months remaining in the MLS season, each team is hoping that the path they are following will take them to the ultimate goal of a championship.

Once November arrives, we’ll know for sure if the paths taken were the right ones.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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