PORTLAND, Ore. - After covering the Union's game in Vancouver last weekend, I stayed in the Pacific Northwest for a week-long tour of Cascadia's soccer hotbeds. The final leg of my trip brought me to the Rose City, where I've been able to catch up with some familiar names to Philadelphia soccer fans.
(Unfortunately, I left Seattle the day before Clint Dempsey's dramatic unveiling as the newest Seattle Sounder. As tempting as it was to stay for the spectacle, I got a pretty nice consolation prize: three games in two days at JELD-WEN Field.)
First up is former Union defender Jordan Harvey. Now with the Vancouver Whitecaps, he has become a stalwart in Martin Rennie's defense - and arguably one of the best left backs in Major League Soccer. Harvey had a great game Saturday, scoring Vancouver's only goal in a 1-1 tie.
"I think he's an under-valued player sometimes," Vancouver manager Martin Rennie told me after Saturday's game. "I'm really pleased for him, because he's the kind of guy who often doesn't get a lot of credit. But I think within our team we value him very highly."
(I can hear your complaints about the Union's issues at that position all the way from this side of the country. You can make a fair case that the team hasn't had a proper left back on its roster since they traded Harvey two years ago.)
The Whitecaps' point earned Saturday was a big one, as the Western Conference playoff race is starting to really heat up. Vancouver is also trying to win the Cascadia Cup for the first time since 2008, three years before the team joined MLS.
Harvey has a big role to play in both of those efforts.
You have played for three different clubs in MLS since you turned pro in 2006. Do you feel like you're really a part of Vancouver now?
It's been about two and a half years now. You always feel that after a year and a half, two years, you get settled. I definitely feel like I'm settling in.
New Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted made his MLS debut in this game. What was it like to play with him behind you for the first time?
He's quality. That's why they brought him in. We have three quality goalkeepers on this roster [Knighton and MLS veteran Joe Cannon are the others]. He did well in his first game.
Are there any worries about the team dynamic when there are three goalkeepers of that caliber on the squad?
They approach it very professionally. I've seen no changes in anyone's attitude. They come into training and work hard, and fight for the position. Just like anybody does when competing with another player.
I have to ask you about Brad Knighton getting benched, because you've known him for so long. Probably longer than anyone else on this team, except maybe Martin Rennie. Are you worried at all about how he's going to take losing his starting spot after delivering quite a few strong performances this year?
He's been battling for a position his whole career, and I have the last few years too. We've kind of bonded over that. I have no doubts that he'll be battling for it again. This team is very competitive, and if there's a lull in our performances, changes will be made. That's just how it is. I don't see any drop in his play or his attitude. He'll come into practice and work hard, just like he does. He's a professional.
I want to go back to a moment earlier in the season that I know you may have tried to forget: the second leg of the Voyageurs Cup final on May 29 You were playing at home and had a wide open chance to score the title-winning goal late in the game. Your shot went wide, and you took quite a bit of heat for the miss – in part because Vancouver has never won the Canadian championship.
Since then, you've been in great form. You've played all 90 minutes in 11 straight games, and scored four goals. Was that miss a turning point for you?
You know, it's something that I drew on. I got a lot of criticism after that. I came on for about 15 minutes, had one chance and missed it, and all of a sudden I'm the guy who blew it for everyone. I kind of took that as motivation. I got my opportunity in the New York game,* and I took it.
I had been in and out of the lineup in the early part of the season and that was a deflating experience. Once I got my opportunity, I really needed to grab hold of it. I felt like I really needed a spark to push myself forward and that's all I've been playing with.
* - Harvey started and scored in Vancouver's first game after the cup final, a 2-1 win over New York at Red Bull Arena on June 1.
How important is left back as a position on the field these days? It's a weak spot for a lot of teams in MLS, so it gets discussed a fair amount when someone plays the position well.
I feel like outside back is pretty important in our system, because we have so many quality attacking players. The outside back is sometimes isolated. Defensively, it's a difficult position, but the way we've been playing, I've been able to get forward quite a bit.
Then today, luckily, I was able to get up for set pieces. That's kind of new to me this year. I'm trying to take advantage of it and not have to sit back on the halfway line.
The playoff race in the Western Conference is very tight, even with almost three months to go in the season. Now you have Clint Dempsey throwing a stick of dynamite into things by joining the Sounders. They are just outside the playoff places with games in hand over the teams above them - including yours.
Vancouver made the playoffs last year, becoming the first Canadian MLS team to do so. How important is it psychologically to have had that experience, and to know what it takes to get to the postseason again?
It's very important. We got it under our belt, we got the monkey off our back, I think. That's really important when you have not having made the playoffs hanging over your head. Making the playoffs - and I thought we played well in that first-round game against Los Angeles - right now it's so tight in the West that every point is crucial. This point is going to be huge for us.