How things can change. Was it really only a few days ago that the supporters were talking up the prospects of winning the Cascadia Cup at home? But then the Timbers lost in Seattle, and won here tonight. If the Whitecaps are to repeat as champions, they will have to complete the Quest for La Quinta in Seattle on October 10th. A win would guarantee them the Cup, though could also claim it with a win in Portland on September 20th, and a draw in Seattle.
Heading into tonight's match, the Caps had scored eight goals in their last ten matches, while earning a mere eleven points. Now, the same could be said for their last eleven matches, and it would be said from the wrong side of Anschutz Cup qualification. With the win, the Timbers moved a point ahead of the Caps, though Vancouver does still have a game in hand.
But that game in hand won't count for much if the Caps can't bulge the auld onion bag. And on recent form, it doesn't look good. In their last five matches, they have scored only one goal, which was thanks to a 40th minute two-on-one against Kansas City, who were already trailing through an Igor Juliao own goal.
But Vancouver didn't always lack a scoring punch. Through their first 14 games, they had scored 25 goals, and earned 22 points, which put them on pace for 60 goals and 53 points. They had also scored two or more goals from the run of play on seven occasions. So what happened? Well, Kenny Miller was released and the Caps haven't scored more than one run of play goal since.
Now, we're not saying that he is the only reason for the Caps lack of scoring, far from it. But at the same time, by simply having a player of Miller's stature around, other players perform better. During his time in Vancouver, he would often be seen at practice, talking with the forwards, pointing out what they should do in certain situations, and teaching them what he had learned while playing in Scotland, England, and Turkey.
Andy O'Brien performs a similar duty, and is likely one of the many reason he may earn another contract, though for a variety of reasons, we're expecting that to come after the Expansion Draft.
Mauro Rosales made an immediate impact on his home debut, winning a free kick from a dangerous position to the left of the box. Pa Modou Kah could have earned a yellow card for the tackle, but a free kick and a talking to was probably appropriate, especially in light of how card happy some referees can be.
Pedro Morales took the free kick and was looking for Kendall Waston, but the Costa Rican misread the ball, and moved away from it at first. By the time he had realised his error, Alvas Powell had stepped in to deal with the danger.
Early in the match, despite being outnumbered, Pedro Morales and Mauro Rosales had a bit of a give and go, cutting through the Timbers midfield. The exchange included a noteworthy back heel pass with some height from Morales to Rosales.
Right now, we're wishing that Pedro would go by his last name of Flores, but if Peter Schaad can learn to say Morales to Rosales, we can certainly learn to type it. Before the fifth minute was out, Rosales had chipped a nice shot in to Morales, who beat Diego Chara and Donovan Ricketts, but could not beat the crossbar.
Ricketts made the first save of the night, as it turned out, a rarity for either keeper, in the eight minute, when Liam Ridgewell managed to get enough of a deflection on the shot to make it an easy save for the Jamaican.
In the 9th minute, Fanendo Adi and Waston went up for the ball. Waston won the header, though it ultimately fell for Darlington Nagbe, and when Adi landed safely on his feet, he paused, and then gently eased down onto the pitch. It was a curious decision, as Nagbe had control of the ball.
Even more curious was the fact that Adi's back collided with Waston's back, and yet Adi clutched his face as he lay on the ground. With Adi playing the next 59 minutes before being subbed off for Maximiliano Urruti, it can't have affected him too severely. He did not require treatment, but he did manage to roll over once after having previously come to a complete stop.
When Rosales and Jorge Villafaña battled for the ball along the touchline, there was some confusion as the referee blew for a free kick, and Rosales and Rodney Wallace both tried to collect the ball. We're not sure if Rosales genuinely felt he was fouled, or if that was a bit of gamesmanship, but it was amusing either way.
On the edge of Vancouver's box, Powell, a fullback, powered through Matías Laba, knocking the Argentine midfielder down while retaining the ball. With the space opened up by the move, Powell took three steps into the box and fired off an impressive volley that hit the side netting. The move was very much in keeping with what we expect of Jordan Harvey, who recently extended his contract with the Whitecaps.
Not long after, Rosales performed a spin around Chara, making the Colombian look like a schoolboy by comparison, and threaded a nice through ball to Kekuta Manneh, or so he thought. When Rosales threaded the ball, he saw that Manneh was in position to make an open run at goal. At least he would have, had he continued his run.
But instead, Powell busted his gut to reach the ball first, Villafaña was the second man in, and Manneh, who had positioning, had pulled up. We hope that he had a bit of a cramp, since Manneh had position and he certainly had the engine to get there first. But he didn't.
In the 16th minute, Morales took a corner. Waston threw Ridgewell out of his way, creating space to get on the other end of the ball. He still had to beat Adi, but that was easier done than said. By the time Adi had begun his jump, Waston's cleats were already past Adi's shorts. But the ball didn't dip enough for him. Instead, it sailed well over the crossbar.
At the other end, Diego Valeri, always a threat, found Adi. But Harvey, knowing the danger Valeri represents, played Adi offside before the cross. In the end, Adi's header was a weak one, but even if it had gone in, he was offside when the ball was struck.
Waston committed a comical 'foul' on Adi in the 18th minute. Adi had planted his feet, intending to use his 6'4" frame and 185 lb. build to keep the ball. But then came in Waston's 6'5" frame and 195 lb. build. And we're not even sure those are right. Waston looks a lot more than 1" and 10 lb. bigger than Adi. Though they do say the camera ads 10 lb. In any event, Waston actually won the ball, kicking it from between Adi's legs, but when the rest of the Costa Rican came, his Nigerian counterpart folded like a lawn chair.
In the midfield, one of Laba, Morales, or Rosales would routinely win the ball, pass to another of the trio, who would either find a striker, or put the ball nicely into their path. But, invariably, whether it was Manneh, Erik Hurtado, Darren Mattocks, or Sebastián Fernández, the forward would let them down. As the game progressed, Rosales became visibly agitated, often gesturing and shouting at a teammate with where he wanted them to go.
And this is where the Caps miss Kenny Miller. He knew how to play the number nine role. As talented as Manneh, Hurtado, Mattocks, and Fernández are, none of them have the patience or inclination to maintain control of the ball in the attacking third.
In the 21st minute, Rosales flicked on a clever ball, hoping that one of Hurtado, Manneh, and Laba, who had temporary front three, would get on the other end of, but none of them moved towards it, and two full seconds after Rosales had made the flick, he found a fist in his back, and a boot on his heel. Rosales lost his boot in the process and yet no foul was given. Perhaps referee Armando Villarreal was waiting for him to lose a headband before calling a foul.
From the start of the game, Diego Chara's role was as clear as crystal. He was to stop Pedro Morales. And while he was not always effective, he had the advantage. For as a matter of sporting history, it has always been easier to deter than to create.
At halftime, the Whitecaps had a narrow lead in possession, 50.6%, a 2-1 advantage in shots on target and corner kicks, though they did commit 5 fouls to Portland's 4. With Vancouver never having won a game when tied at the half, and Portland never having won at BC Place since 2012, the game looked like it was heading for yet another draw.
Early in the second half, Pedro Morales went down with an apparent ankle injury after it was clipped yet with a late challenge. But after attempting to stand under his own power, he required treatment, which began on the pitch and continued off of it. But after a few minutes, he was able to return to play and would finish the match.
Portland finally broke the deadlock in the 51st minute, when Powell snuck past Jordan Harvey. Wallace, who had been marked by O'Brien also came in, which meant one Whitecap centre half had to defend two Timbers. Of course, he could only guard one, and Powell headed the ball into the back of the net.
Not that they needed it, but Portland did have a penalty appeal in the 58th minute, when the ball may have grazed Harvey's arm before deflecting off David Ousted's gloves for a corner kick. We're not sure if Harvey did touch the ball, but these kinds of calls have a habit of going against you.
Like on the Caps next corner, Morales took it, tried to find Waston, but Powell was able to head the ball for what should have been another corner, but instead, the referee blew for a goal kick. Perhaps he saw a foul as the corner was taking place.
Shortly thereafter, Mattocks came on for Manneh. He would be joined a few minutes later by Fernández, who came on for Hurtado, and finally, Sam Adekugbe, who got a cameo appearance in place of Harvey. The Timbers replaced Adi with Maximiliano Urruti, Powell with Michael Harrington, and in a time wasting move, Ben Zemanski for Valeri on the brink of stoppage time.
Russell Teibert, who except for a few scant moments, had a quiet night as a holding midfielder, was able pick out Mattocks' run. But as the speedy centre forward ran the ball into the box, his first touch failed him. By the time he brought the ball under control, Kah had closed in on him, and the shot deflected high into the air.
Behind the play, Chara finally got a yellow card for a dangerous challenge on Hurtado, though he could have easily earned one half a dozen times over while competing with Rosales and Morales.
Rosales had a glorious chance to equalise in the 72nd minute. As Hurtado fell under a tackle, he was able to feed Rosales, whose effort skidded against the wrong side of the post before finding its way into the side netting.
Powell, whose last action was on May 17th, had been cramping throughout the match, and finally gave way to Harrington. With a performance like this under his belt, we'd bet the farm that he won't go another 14 games without seeing a minute on the pitch.
The move proved fortuitous, as the two substitutes combined for the second goal. Harrington ran almost all the way to the Vancouver goal line. Laba was marking him, but ran out of gas. Meanwhile, in the box, Waston slipped, putting O'Brien out of position, and giving Urruti and unfettered shot at the goal. Vancouver's substitutes didn't prove so lucky as Fernández came off second best in a shoulder to shoulder challenge by Valeri.
And before Vancouver knew it, it was 3-0. Darlington Nagbe, the man chosen after Omar Salgado, went around Laba, who was labouring by this point, then threaded a ball through the gap between Steven Beitashour and O'Brien, which Wallace powered into the back of the net as Waston tried to close him down.
In celebration, Wallace removed his shirt and was awarded a yellow card for the offence. But he could be forgiven for showing that kind of emotion on a night such as this.
For the first seventy-five, Portland led through Powell's goal, but you get the sense that either side could have taken this game. Vancouver trailed in possession by less than a percentage. Corners, clearances, offsides, and fouls were more or less equal. But then Portland turned it on.
And it all comes down to Caleb Porter. He knew about Vancouver's speed and tempo and he used it to his advantage. Portland spent most of the match defending in numbers, never allowing a true breakaway, but always allowing Vancouver's players to tire themselves out. As the game progressed, the Timbers, never having exerted themselves, had more in the tank than Vancouver. It's as simple as that.
Morales' contributions were negated by Chara, Laba was run ragged trying to perform Gershon Koffie's role, while Teibert, bizarrely, ended up in Laba's role. When Manneh, Hurtado, Mattocks, and Fernández ventured forward, their attacks fizzled in the face of numbers, or by errors of their own making. And when the Caps made mistakes, and every club makes them, the Timbers pounced.
They didn't play the kinds of tricks we associate with Dallas. They aren't as talented as Los Angeles. But on the day, they were the better prepared team. As Roy Keane often said, if you fail to prepare, then you've prepared to fail.
Next up for the Caps is a nice easy home match against DC United, who finished last in the league in 2013. Except in this topsy-turvy league that we call MLS, United currently sit 2nd, behind only Seattle.