Whitecaps Lose 2-1 In Portland
Vancouver Whitecaps FC men lost their fourth straight game of the season following a 2-1 defeat at USL First Division leaders Portland Timbers on Thursday evening.
Despite taking the lead through a superb Martin Nash strike, a first-half equalizer by Timbers captain Andrew Gregor and a well-taken winner by midfielder Lawrence Olum early in the second half gave Portland their first win over the Whitecaps in 11 tries. It was the sixth straight win of the season for Gavin Wilkinson's side, as the in-form Oregon club went five points clear at the top of the standings after being the second consecutive club to overcome a one-goal deficit against the Whitecaps in less than a week.
Whitecaps head coach Bob Lilley made five changes to the side that lost 2-1 at home to Miami FC on Saturday. Goalkeeper Lutz Pfannenstiel made his second start for Vancouver, while Cameroonian defender Narcisse Tchoumi made his first league appearance for the club in over a month. Captain Jeff Clarke's run of 51 consecutive games ended Thursday, as he was rested against Portland.
Striker Joey Gjertsen, meanwhile, equaled the Whitecaps ironman streak by playing in his 77th consecutive game for the club. The streak was initially set earlier in the season by Nash before he was called up by the Canadian national team for last month's CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament.
On a pleasant and sunny evening at PGE Park, both sides contributed to an entertaining first half of soccer, despite some untidy spells in which both sides struggled to deal with the stadium's hard playing surface.
Just two minutes into the game, Timbers goalkeeper Josh Wicks was called on to make a save after teammate Tom Poltl had inadvertently flicked a Whitecaps cross towards his own goal.
The home side responded through their captain and set-piece man Gregor, as he forced Pfannenstiel to punch away his dangerous corner from the left before making the German keeper punch his ensuing shot away on the rebound.
Showing no wear and tear of making 77 straight appearances for Vancouver, Gjertsen forced former Whitecaps teammate keeper Josh Wicks into an important diving save from his low shot after strike partner David Testo had picked him out with a pass on the edge of the Timbers box.
Though Portland looked to be coming to grips with the contest, the Whitecaps remained undeterred and stunned the home crowd by taking the lead on 18 minutes. A poor Portland clearance allowed Nash to win possession near the Timbers box. The Canadian international shifted the ball on to his left foot before unleashing an unstoppable swerving shot past the outstretched arm of Wicks. It was an important goal for the Whitecaps, as it subdued the Timbers Army in the stands.
However, the home fans would soon be celebrating a well-taken equalizer by Gregor just before the half-hour mark. Poltl's forward pass to Gregor saw the Timbers captain neatly flick the ball over the head of his marker Tchoumi. The move subsequently left the Whitecaps defender horribly wrong-footed on the edge of the Vancouver box, as Gregor shrugged off both the challenges of the African and Adrian Cann before finishing past Pfannenstiel for 1-1.
Moments later, Tony Donatelli tried to respond to Portland's equalizer with a hard struck shot for the Whitecaps, but it went wide of the target, as the USL-1 leaders went on to have the better chances before the halftime break.
Timbers striker Bryan Jordan should have done better with Gregor's set piece, but his headed effort sailed over the Whitecaps crossbar after Vancouver defender Diaz Kambere had given away the free kick for a clumsy foul on Jordan.
Jordan then had another clear chance at goal after neatly turning Tchoumi on the edge of the Whitecaps box, but the Portland striker put his shot wide of the far post before Olum headed another Gregor free kick high and wide of the Vancouver goal, as both sides went to the break deadlocked at 1-1.
The second half initially started slowly, with Wicks handling a couple of Whitecaps crosses into the Portland box with ease soon after the restart.
However, Timber Jim and the Timbers Army only had to wait until the 52nd minute to see their side take the lead. Good work by Leonard Griffin on the left saw the Portland defender cross right-footed into the Whitecaps box. Though Bagley took a bad first touch of the ball, poor Vancouver marking allowed the loose ball to fall to an unmarked Olum and his fine first-time finish beat Pfannenstiel to make it 2-1.
With his side a goal down, Nash tried to make amends with a real chance near the edge of the Timbers box, but his first-time shot sailed over Wicks' crossbar when he may have been able to do better.
Lilley was far from pleased to see his side a goal down and he promptly made three changes on 62 minutes, as Steve Klein, Jay Alberts and Jason Jordan came in to try and shake things up. Minutes later, Gjertsen came close to creating a Whitecaps opening, but Portland defender Scot Thompson did well to recover and clear the danger away in his own box.
Before being substituted by USL-1 Player of the Week David Hague, Jordan caused more problems for the Whitecaps defence, as he forced Pfannenstiel to clear a loose ball forward before the German collided with the Timbers striker - much to the displeasure of the Portland crowd.
With time winding down, the Whitecaps struggled to make any real concrete chances, with Gjertsen striking a hopeful effort high and wide of Wicks' goal in the final five minutes.
Despite referee Colin Arblaster playing more than the allocated four minutes of stoppage time, the Whitecaps were unable to find an opening, with Steve Kindel's wayward strike the last effort taken before the final whistle was blown.
Though the Whitecaps came away empty-handed from PGE Park, assistant coach Todd Wawrousek saw some positive signs on Thursday. "Despite the result, we were somewhat encouraged by the quality of our play," Wawrousek told whitecapsfc.com. "Portland are a hard-working side, but we were able to neutralize their forward play. We scored a great goal through Nash, but the two goals we conceded were preventable. It was a difficult surface to play on and a difficult environment to play in, but I was pleased to see how we put them on their heels after we went 2-1 down."
Thursday's result meant the Whitecaps have gone winless in their last seven games, with Lilley's side now trailing leaders Portland by six points and having played four games more than the Timbers at this stage of the season. "We know Portland will be tough to catch," said Wawrousek. "However, we must continue to build on the good things we have done, as we have full confidence in our group."
Vancouver's next game will be at home, as another Pacific Northwest rival in Seattle Sounders make their second visit of the season to Swangard Stadium on Friday, July 27.
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