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Whitecaps FC Win First-round Playoff Series Over Portland Timbers 2-1 On Aggregate

October 11, 2010 - U.S. Soccer Federation D-2 (USSF D-2) - Vancouver Whitecaps News Release

PORTLAND, OR - In the second leg of their USSF D-2 Pro League first-round playoff series, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (1W-1L-0D) advanced to the semifinals after a 2-1 aggregate win over Portland Timbers (1W-1L-0D), despite losing Sunday evening's match 1-0 at Merlo Field in Portland, Oregon.

Though James Marcelin's second-half header gave the Timbers their third victory of the season over Pacific Northwest rivals Vancouver, however, Whitecaps FC's 2-0 win in Thursday's first leg at Swangard Stadium proved decisive in the overall outcome of this two-match playoff series.

As the fifth playoff seed, Whitecaps FC will now meet the eighth-seeded Puerto Rico Islanders in next week's semifinal series after the Caribbean club upset regular season champions Rochester Rhinos 3-2 on aggregate in the first round. The first leg will take place in Puerto Rico on Thursday, October 14, with the second leg back home at Swangard Stadium on Sunday, October 17.

'Caps head coach Teitur Thordarson was forced into one change for the second leg in The City of Roses. Youngster Ethan Gage replaced the injured Wes Knight at right fullback. As in the first leg, captain Martin Nash played as a withdrawn striker behind lone target man Cody Arnoux.

A pleasant autumn evening and a passionate crowd greeted both sets of players on the campus of the University of Portland, with the 'Caps enjoying the natural and expansive Merlo Field surface. In fact, the atmosphere and setting was similar to what the Blue and White have become accustom to at Swangard. There was also a committed set of Whitecaps FC supporters that made the trip down Interstate 5 to support their side on Thanksgiving Sunday.

With the impetus on Portland to find a way back into the series, Vancouver were pleased to get through the first part of the opening half without much bother from their Oregon-based hosts. The only Timbers chance of note came on eight minutes, as a header from striker Doug DeMartin went wide of the far post following a Kalif Alhassan cross.

It was also a half that had many stoppages, as match referee Fotis Bazakos blew down numerous fouls from both sides. The lack of flow to the match frustrated Portland, in particular, with Timbers midfielder Ryan Pore earning a yellow card for his complaints.

Though relatively satisfied to be keeping the second leg under control, Whitecaps FC produced little in terms of goalscoring opportunities before the break. Nash and midfielder Gershon Koffie had two similar strikes that flew well over Timbers goalkeeper Steve Cronin's crossbar.

Instead, it was Portland that worked hard to try and make a breakthrough before halftime. However, a DeMartin header from a Steve Purdy run and cross on 39 minutes, and a similar header by strike partner Bright Dike five minutes later, both went wide of the far post.

It meant that both sides went into halftime scoreless on the night, with Whitecaps FC still in command of the series with a two-goal aggregate lead. "The main thing was not to let them score, and we did that after 45 minutes," 'Caps centre back Luca Bellisomo told "I thought we played alright and managed to keep the ball at times. For the most part, however, we managed to limit their chances before halftime."

Where the first half was very much to Vancouver's liking, they were to endure a far more testing second half, as Portland quickly pulled themselves back into the series with a goal shortly after the restart.

Some early pressure from the home side resulted in Timbers captain Ian Joy playing over a fine cross that found Marcelin on 49 minutes. The big Haitian midfielder placed a fine header just inside the far post to give Portland a 1-0 lead and cut the aggregate deficit to 2-1.

Marcelin's goal raised the spirits of the passionate home support, with Vancouver facing the very difficult task of withstanding a now-motivated Timbers side from levelling the series scoreline.

It called for a brave rearguard action from the 'Caps backline and goalkeeper Jay Nolly. This included some desperate defending to clear away two scrambles in the Vancouver box, which surely had the hearts of Whitecaps FC fans in their mouths.

Though possession and play was largely dominated by Portland after halftime, the 'Caps had opportunities to effectively seal the series. Having replaced Arnoux just after the break, Ridge Mobulu forced a fine piece of Timbers defending to his break in on goal after midfielder Terry Dunfield had released the Swiss import with an exquisite through ball on 62 minutes. Five minutes later, Blake Wagner drilled a shot just over the Timbers net following a Philippe Davies corner.

As proceedings entered the dying stages, the Timbers kept pressing in search of that all-important second goal, but only to find the dependable Nolly in position to collect or punch clear any dangerous balls into the Vancouver box. "We knew Portland would play a lot of long balls forward, as they have some big guys up front who are good in the air and have pace," Nash said after Sunday's game. "Yet, we dug our heels in and everybody did their job by sticking together as a team. I think our teamwork helped us prevail tonight, as we knuckled down and grinded out a result."

Although Portland were given over five minutes of time added on to find that elusive second goal, the final whistle from referee Bazakos brought an end to the Timbers' time as a North American second division club. For Whitecaps FC, their long and storied history of success in the playoffs continues, with Vancouver's focus now turning to the reigning Caribbean club champions in Puerto Rico.

Thordarson was delighted to claim another famous playoff victory versus the Timbers. "I just felt the guys were fantastic today," he said. "In the pre-match meeting, we spoke about what it would take to win this series. Knowing that tonight's game was going to be a battle, it was those players that stood up in that battle that would make a difference. I felt the whole team showed that battling spirit tonight, and for me, that was great to see."

In the other USSF D-2 semifinal series, NASL Conference winners Carolina RailHawks (second seed) will take on the sixth-seeded Montreal Impact. The first leg will take place at Montreal's Stade Saputo on Thursday, October 14, with the second leg set for WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina, on Sunday, October 17.

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