Vancouver, BC (SportsNetwork.com) - There will be plenty at stake when the Portland Timbers head to BC Place to face Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Sunday.
Not only will the Cascadia Cup rivals have a derby atmosphere to look forward to, but there will also be playoff implications on the line as both clubs look to make strides toward the postseason.
Portland enters the contest in third place in the Western Conference with 49 points, eight points better than the seventh-place Whitecaps.
The Timbers did extremely well to give themselves some breathing room in the table as Maximillano Urruti's lone goal gave the club a 1-0 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy, bringing Portland four points clear of Bruce Arena's side.
"It's a big step," Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said after the match. "Obviously, every step is important, but this was a big one. It puts us four points clear of L.A. and Colorado. Our goal is to not just limp into the playoffs, but to get in a good position, hopefully in the top-three, and to avoid the play-in game. From that standpoint, it was a big step.
"It also was a big step for this club, just moving forward to continue to show that we can beat anybody. That team, they were full strength with their top guys in there. They clearly came to play. They knew what was at stake. They knew the importance of this game. That was reflected in their performance, L.A. played well."
The Timbers are aware of the importance of each remaining contest, and the derby atmosphere BC Place will bring will reinforce the do-or-die mentality that they have adopted.
"It's definitely tight and we know it's tight, so every game you've got to play like it's the championship game, so we fight to win games and get good results," said Timbers striker Darlington Nagbe.
Unlike Portland, Vancouver has little room for error.
A poor run of form that has seen Vancouver go 1-4-2 over its last seven league games to drop the club to the outside of the playoff picture, meaning that the 'Caps do not hold their fate in their own hands. Vancouver most recently dropped a disappointing home match in a 1-0 loss to a largely second-choice Real Salt Lake squad.
"For the third game in a row, we started the game badly, which is really frustrating, and it's something we've worked on," said Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie. "We made sure we were focused and ready to go. We put ourselves in a bad spot to start with, and I just thought our quality was really poor. It was a disappointing performance, especially given how well we've played in our last two games.
"We've all got to look at it and see how we can do better. We've now put ourselves in a difficult spot as we go forward. But we've still got plenty of time to get the wins that we need. We need to turn it around starting next week against Portland."
Including Sunday's meeting with Portland, Vancouver's four remaining matches come against Western Conference teams occupying postseason positions.
"We know how important this game is to us, we don't need to put extra onus on our rivalry," Jay DeMerit said after the loss to RSL. "Whether it's Portland or someone else, even in the Eastern division, these games are all must wins, and we've got to make sure that we reflect that in our performance. We just didn't do that tonight."
The 'Caps will head to CenturyLink Field to face Seattle Sounders FC on Oct. 9 before closing the season with a home-and-away series with the Colorado Rapids on Oct. 19 and 27.