Cascadia Cup matches are events. There is nothing quite like them. The energy in the building is electric. The passion is palpable. To someone who's never experienced a Cascadia Cup match, the best analogy we can give you is that it feels like a playoff atmosphere, but these roots run so much deeper. The experience is far more pronounced. It's tribalism at its finest. You want to win every game, but you enjoy it more when it comes against a rival.
There were 1,500 members of the Timbers Army at BC Place, and they came to play. They brought a tifo featuring that famous line, "fifty-four forty or fight!" And their voice was heard throughout BC Place. At times, those 1,500 people out sang the other 21,000 who were in attendance. And it all comes from unity. Vancouver boasts a number of supporters groups, but there is only one Timbers Army.
When Sam Adekugbe was stretchered off the pitch in Orlando, few would have expected him to play any part of this match, let alone start. But the young Englishman's injuries were not as bad as once feared. He engaged in some light practice this week, and won his bid to be fit for this game. He wanted to be ready for his first ever Cascadia Cup match, and that's a powerful motivator.
Vancouver manager Carl Robinson had a couple of suspensions to contend with. His solution was to throw a little spice into the mix by choosing Oregon-native Erik Hurtado and former Timber Pa Modou Kah to come in for Kekuta Manneh and Diego Rodríguez.
Octavio Rivero, who had three goals in his previous three matches, won an early free kick at the edge of the box. El Capitán, Pedro Morales, stepped up to take it, but the wall did its job, and the ball went out for a throw.
Gershon Koffie was the first name to be written into the book, thanks to a challenge on Maximiliano Urruti. Koffie was not happy with it, but it was probably a fair decision. Still, Koffie would again talk the ref's ear off at halftime about the decision.
Rivero soon won another free kick for the home side, this time coming near the opposite corner of the box. And George Fochive can count his blessings that Rivero didn't make a meal out of the stamp. There was no malice there. It wasn't intentional, it wasn't even forceful, but Fochive's studs did made contact with Rivero's socks. That could have been a yellow, or worse. Instead, it was just a free kick.
After some discussion, Pedro Morales agreed that Nicolás Mezquida should take it. The Uruguayan calmly took his time when placing the ball, it had to be just right. He stepped away, then took a couple of steps to gauge how Portland had set up their wall. And then he put it in the back of the net. Just like that, the Caps were up by one.
The ball curled up and over the wall, Jorge Villafana being the only Timber to jump for it, but he was too little, and too late. The ball sailed right past his head, dipped, and ended up going just under Adam Kwarasey's outstretched fingertips.
Mezquida's goal sent the whole stadium, at least those who weren't wearing green, into rapture. The noise was deafening. This wasn't just any goal. It was a Cascadia Cup goal. Vancouver has a title to defend.
Vancouver's Carl Robinson and Portland's Caleb Porter could not be more different if they tried. Robinson is the quintessential player's coach, he trusts his squad, and rewards hard work and dedication. As he is often known to say, "if you're good enough, then you're good enough." His players adore him, and it shows on the pitch.
At the other end of the spectrum, there is Caleb Porter. He has built a squad with the mindset of keeping a consistent first eleven. He has meticulously drilled them in his own image. They are the chess pieces he moves around the pitch. Porterball may not be pretty, but it usually works.
Portland like to play long balls and they like crosses, which isn't much of a problem when you're as good in the air as they are. But Vancouver like a far higher tempo, they like through balls, and they love the counterattack.
One stretch of play that exemplified the differences in these two squads began in the 28th minute. After Fanendo Adi fouled Gershon Koffie, the Whitecaps took a quick free kick. The ball reached Erik Hurtado, who was immediately fouled by Diego Chara. If not for the foul, Hurtado would have had options in Mezquida and Rivero. But the Timbers had to slow the game down, and so Chara did just that. It was his fourth questionable foul of the match.
But before the referee could blow his whistle, Mezquida collected the ball and began moving with it. He too was fouled, but he managed to stay on his feet and sent a through ball into the box. Rivero's chance found the wrong side of the post, but there were three fouls by the Timbers in less than a minute during that stretch of play, and each was a calculated attempt designed to slow the game down. On each occasion, the referee played the advantage. In Porterball, it's better to give up a free kick than to allow your opponent to play the ball.
In what seemed like seconds later, Sam Adekugbe was having his usual luck, which is to say bad. He shepherded a ball across the line for a goal kick, but Alvas Powell was having none of it, and so he employed an ice hockey-like body check, which sent Vancouver's fullback ass over teakettle onto the wrong side of the boards. Pa Modou Kah leapt to his defence, while David Ousted checked to see if he was all right. Fortunately for all concerned, he was fine. A little woozy, but no worse for wear.
With the Whitecaps still leading by one, but Portland having dominated much of the second half, Robinson chose to substitute the goal scorer, Nicolás Mezquida, with Cuba's Kianz Froese in the 58th minute. But it did nothing to stem the tide.
Portland were a different side in the second half. They looked for the equaliser, and they knew if they kept a high line, it would eventually come. They even had a 67th minute penalty appeal. We're not sure if it hit Fanendo Adi or Gershon Koffie, but based on the way the ball played, we're inclined to think it hit Adi. In any event, Dairon Asprilla and Darlington Nagbe were both in offside positions when the ball was struck. The referee decided to just wave play on, a wise move, all things considered.
Some of David Ousted's saves were truly impressive, the kind they write songs about, and while we don't have the talents of a Marie Hui, we do love a good parody, such as this one, set to the tune of Gilligan's Island:
"The Timbers started playing rough, our game plan had been tossed, if not for the efforts of our Danish keeper, the three points would be lost, the three points would be lost."
In the 72nd minute, Robinson decided to give Deybi Flores a run out, and on this example, we can't see it taking long before the Honduran box-to-box midfielder gets to play from the first whistle. Robinson is a brave man, but is he brave enough to start an eighteen year old against the mighty Los Angeles Galaxy? This time, we'll forgive him if he opts to go with experience.
Cascadia Cup ties are no stranger to late goals, and the Timbers had one for us tonight. Steven Beitashour, normally so calm and collected, was caught ball watching. He didn't keep up with Rodney Wallace, the ball fell to Fanendo Adi, and the visitors had tied it up with eight minutes to play. The goal had been coming and Portland did deserve to be level.
Octavio Rivero did not score today, but he came oh so close in the 86th minute. He was a bit tired, and Adam Kwarasey was all too happy to smother the ball, but Rivero is going to do well in this league. Even the way he chased down the ball after he had lost it was proof of that. A lesser player would have given up. Rivero did not.
And for the last five minutes, Robert Earnshaw would be his strike partner after coming on as a substitute for Erik Hurtado. It proved to be a masterful substitution.
But Ousted still had to make his mark. His save on Adi in the 89th minute was the stuff of legend. He made the save that put Vancouver in position to win. If not, the best they could have hoped for was a draw.
Robert Earnshaw made his mark as the clock reached ninety, and Vancouver had their winner. 1,500 fans have made the long trek up from Portland, and they must now return empty handed. This was a Major League match, a Western Conference match, and a Cascadia Cup match, and it could not have ended any better.
With nine points from four matches, Vancouver trail only Dallas, who drew with Seattle. But they'll have their toughest test yet when they host the Galaxy on Saturaday, and welcome the Crew on Wednesday.