Next game: at Puerto Rico Islanders, Thursday Oct. 14, 5 pm Vancouver time, www.whitecapsfc.com
Now they’re in Puerto Rico preparing to battle an Islanders squad with a dangerous ground attack.
“They play quite a bit on the counter, like Portland, but they play the ball more on the ground,” said Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson. “I guess it will be a different task.”
The Caps made it to the USSF D-2 semi-finals by grabbing an early 2-0 lead over Portland in the first game at home and limiting the Timbers to just one goal in a 1-0 Portland win in Oregon on Sunday.
The Islanders took a very similar path in knocking off the top-seeded Rochester Rhinos – winning the first game 2-0 at home and losing 2-1 on the road.
Vancouver and Puerto Rico both won just one of their last seven regular-season games but each found enough of a winning touch in the post season to make it to the final four.
The Islanders’ 9-11-10 losing regular-season record was the worst among the eight playoff teams but Thordarson said Northern Irishman Colin Clarke’s side is very strong, having proven that in CONCACAF Champions League play.
Puerto Rico defeated Major League Soccer-leading Los Angeles Galaxy in the competition this summer by outscoring them 5-3 over two games.
Battle-scarred Whitecaps players looked relieved after the game in Portland on Sunday to be extending their season at the expense of their longtime Pacific Northwest rivals.
The prospect of a slightly less physical series against the Islanders must seem attractive.
“If you took a look at my legs right now, you’d realize that [powerful Timbers forward Bright Dike] is not easy to play against,” said defender Greg Janicki, who played one of his best games as a Whitecap. “I’m a little beat up.”
The 26-year-old former D.C. United player said conditions in Puerto Rico often make it a hard place to get a result.
“It has been a while since we played them but it’s always tough to play down there, where it’s wet and humid,” he said. “We’ll try to get a decent result there and then come back home and play a little prettier soccer hopefully.”
The two teams played each other twice this season – drawing 1-1 in Puerto Rico in June and playing to a scoreless draw at Swangard Stadium last month. Thordarson said he would gladly accept a tie in Puerto Rico on Thursday and take care of business at home on Sunday.
A less physical style of play with Puerto Rico might allow Swiss international midfielder Davide Chiumiento to get more playing time, as the 25-year-old playmaker didn’t see the field in Portland.
“The game was so physical that his way of playing wouldn’t fit us in these last minutes,” Thordarson said.
Caps captain Martin Nash said Puerto Rico players generally aren’t as physical and athletic as the Timbers but noted forward Nicholas Addlery – with six goals and four assists this season – is quite athletic.
Nash felt his side displayed a “brilliant defensive effort” against Portland. The 34-year-old veteran midfielder played his second straight game as a withdrawn striker but dropped a bit deeper this time to help his team defend.
The use of Nash and Chiumiento as secondary or withdrawn strikers playing behind a lone striker up front has added a new wrinkle to a Thordarson team that usually adopts a conventional 4-4-2 formation.
Nash said he likes his new role but isn’t sure what system Vancouver will adopt against Puerto Rico.
“We’ve shown now we can play a few different ways,” he said.
Montreal Impact play the Carolina RailHawks in the other semi-final that begins in Montreal on Thursday, setting up the possibility of a second straight Vancouver/Montreal league final.