Whitecaps Fall to Rival Timbers 2-1
PORTLAND, OR - In the first of four regular season meetings between their Pacific Northwest rivals, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (2W-1L-1D) suffered their first defeat in the USSF D-2 Pro League after falling 2-1 at Portland Timbers (3W-0L-1D) on Thursday evening.
Ryan Pore took his league-leading goal tally to six, as he scored both of Portland's goals at PGE Park, with his match-winner coming in the dying stages of the contest. In fact, Pore's second goal amazingly came shortly after the Timbers had been reduced to ten men following the sending off of defender Mamadou Danso. In the first half, Pore had opened the scoring with a fine free kick before Whitecaps centre back Nelson Akwari quickly replied with a headed equalizer from a corner.
The late defeat in The City of Roses was very cruel on the 'Caps, as the Blue and White performed ever so well throughout the midweek contest. Teitur Thordarson's side gave the Timbers plenty to deal with, as they tested Portland goalkeeper Steve Cronin and his defensive backline on several occasions.
A pleasant spring evening greeted both sets of players for Thursday's match-up, with a PGE Park crowd of 5,808 witnessing a very entertaining start to proceedings from as early as the second minute. The game's first chance went to the Whitecaps, as captain Martin Nash's corner from the left found an unmarked Zurab Tsiskaridze at the far post. The Georgian defender's header beat a sprawling Cronin, but struck the woodwork before bouncing away to safety.
It was a sign of things to come, as on seven minutes, the Timbers stunned Vancouver by taking the lead through a well-struck free kick from Pore. In what was Portland's first shot on target, the talented Timbers midfielder curled an exquisite right-footed set-piece over the Whitecaps wall and off the outstretched hand of a diving Jay Nolly in the visitors' goal. It was the first goal to be conceded by Vancouver this season and in the newly-formed USSF D-2 Pro League.
After starting the match brightly, Thordarson's side would have been disappointed to be trailing so early in the contest. However, Vancouver's desire to get themselves back into the game resulted in the equalizing goal just four minutes after Portland had taken the lead. Nash's third corner of the match saw the midfielder swing over a set-piece that Akwari rose to powerfully head home at the far post for 1-1. It was the centre back's first goal for the Blue and White.
With the game's first two goals coming inside the opening quarter of an hour, play settled into an even battle between these two Major League Soccer-bound sides, with the Whitecaps doing well to win possession off of their hosts and play some neat soccer on the hard and fast PGE Park turf. The Timbers, meanwhile, struggled to build on their early goal, as Vancouver's back four were able to deal with much of the Timbers' direct style of play.
In fact, the 'Caps finished the first half as the stronger looking side. On 43 minutes, striker Marcus Haber knocked Nash's free kick from the left flank just over the Portland crossbar at close range before both sides went to the halftime break on level terms.
Clearly dissatisfied with the way the opening 45 minutes had unfolded, Timbers head coach Gavin Wilkinson made two changes for the start of the second half, as young striker Doug DeMartin and veteran defender Scot Thompson entered the action to try and turn the balance of the match towards the home side.
Instead, it was the Whitecaps that picked up where they left off at the break, as their early pressure resulted in Nash causing panic in front of the Portland goal on 47 minutes. The playmaker's corner from the left flashed off of Danso and Thompson before bouncing mercifully away for another Vancouver corner.
Yet, for all the Whitecaps good work in attack, the scoreline remained level. The visitors' defensive qualities were soon tested, as the Timbers started to find their feet. On 57 minutes, Nolly made an excellent diving save to stop Pore's curling strike after the Portland midfielder had eluded the attentions of Whitecaps right fullback Chris Williams.
It was a chance that seemed to open up the match at both ends. On 63 minutes, Wes Knight drove powerful shot into the Timbers side-netting before the visitors introduced off-season acquisition Jonny Steele to the match for striker Marlon James a minute later. Having overcome of a pre-season knee injury, the former Northern Ireland youth international was finally able to make his Whitecaps debut in Thursday's game.
It did not take long for Steele to have an impact in the match, as he drew a foul from Timbers defender Stephen Keel to set up a dangerous free-kick opportunity for Nash on 68 minutes. Despite facing a seven-man Portland wall, the Whitecaps captain was then unlucky to hit the outside of the far post with his curling set-piece.
It proved a pulsating period of the game for supporters of both clubs, with Nash troubling the Timbers again with another corner on 72 minutes, while at the other end a minute later, Vancouver were indebted to Nolly after he made a huge save with his legs to deny DeMartin. The Portland substitute striker seemed destined to score after splitting both Tsiskaridze and former Michigan State University teammate Greg Janicki on his run in on goal.
With the match still well poised in the dying stages, Whitecaps substitute Randy Edwini-Bonsu played a role in reducing the Timbers to ten men on 85 minutes. His turn with the ball to beat Danso saw the Portland defender lung to make a challenge that match referee Desmond Miller deemed worthy of a second yellow card and a subsequent sending off.
Having absorbed plenty of Whitecaps pressure in the second half, you could not fault the Timbers for feeling dismayed at facing the final few minutes of the match a man down. Yet, it was from that moment of adversity that Portland stunned Vancouver again - this time with the winning goal on 86 minutes. James Marcelin's long ball forward from the right flank found Pore on the edge of the Whitecaps box. The midfielder was able to leap above Janicki and Williams to head the ball past a diving Nolly at the near post for a unlikely 2-1 Timbers lead.
It was a unbelievable turn of events, and with the Portland crowd still celebrating the goal, the Whitecaps nearly drew level again through substitute Justin Moose on 87 minutes. However, the winger's fine goal-bound strike was brilliantly saved by a diving Cronin to preserve Portland's one-goal lead.
Through they had three minutes of time added on to try and claim something from the match, the final whistle confirmed the 'Caps first defeat of 2010 regular season, and in the most undeserving of fashions.
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The Whitecaps will now turn their focus to this year's Nutrilite Canadian Championship, as they host fellow USSF D-2 Pro League rivals Montreal Impact next Wednesday night. It will be Vancouver's first match in the three-club competition, while the Impact will be looking to bounce back from last night's 2-0 defeat at Toronto FC. Kickoff for the May 5 contest at Swangard Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m. PT. Tickets are available at all Ticketmaster Ticket Centres, online at ticketmaster.ca, and by phone at 604.280.4400 or 1.800.663.9311.
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North American Soccer League Stories from April 30, 2010
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