The Vancouver Whitecaps have made a habit of bouncing back after losses this season.
They will look to keep that trend going Saturday against one of their fiercest rivals.
The Whitecaps dropped a tough 2-1 decision at home last weekend — their third defeat of 2015 — and will travel to Portland to take on the Timbers with the knowledge they have yet to drop two games in a row this campaign.
“I think it shows that we’re mentally strong this year,” said Vancouver goalkeeper David Ousted. “It’s important, especially in this league, to bounce back quickly and not go on too long of a run without winning. That’s a mental toughness that will hopefully be there throughout the year.”
The Whitecaps went down to 10 men in the first half last Saturday against D.C. United when midfielder Matias Laba was sent off, but still had a number of chances to get something out of the game.
Vancouver (5-3-1), which heads into the weekend atop the Major League Soccer standings with 16 points, lost its opener to Toronto FC before winning two straight on the road. The Whitecaps then followed a home defeat to the San Jose Earthquakes with a victory at Real Salt Lake and will be hoping for a similar effort at Providence Park.
“That’s the difference between playoff teams and not, contenders for the championship and not,” said Vancouver defender Jordan Harvey. “You need to bounce back after losses and you see good teams in this league do that.”
The Whitecaps have had difficulty away from B.C. Place Stadium in the past, but the club actually has a better road record this year with three wins and a loss.
“It’s definitely a confidence builder having won on the road and knowing we can do it,” said Ousted. “We’ve been strong on the road so far, but it needs to continue.”
While the Whitecaps have had an ability to nip losing streaks before they get rolling, head coach Carl Robinson said he wants to see more consistency after the team was forced into an uphill battle for a playoff spot in 2014 following a mid-season tumble down the standings.
“On our day we’ve shown we can compete with the best,” said Robinson, whose team beat Portland 2-1 in Vancouver in March. “We’ve shown that if our levels aren’t right then we can obviously get beaten by teams that probably aren’t expected to do much this year.”
Robinson will have to weigh suspensions, injuries and a busy schedule when picking his team against the Timbers as the Whitecaps open a stretch of five games in 16 days — including two in the Amway Canadian Championship.
Saturday will also be Vancouver’s second match in the Cascadia Cup this season, a mini-tournament played between the Whitecaps, Timbers and Seattle Sounders for bragging rights in the Pacific Northwest.
Portland (2-3-3) has alternated wins and losses over its last four games, including a 1-0 road defeat to the Sounders on Sunday, and should be a tough test for the Whitecaps.
“We’ve had some great games with them,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said on the club’s website. “Both teams will be really hungry.”
As always in tight rivalry games, Robinson said Saturday will come down to the small details.
“Tactically we’ve got to be right to stop their strengths. They’re going to have to do the same,” said the Welshman. “I think it’s an intriguing match. Two very good teams, good sets of players, but when they cross the line it’s whichever players perform best on the day.”
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press