Portland Timbers Claims Top of the West, Cascadia Cup!
By Edward Pham
Photos by Jeff Wong
“The way I see it, playoffs start this Sunday,” said Caleb Porter in Tuesday’s press conference. For the Timbers knowing that there was a lot on the line, they needed that mentality. It turns out to prove useful as they came from behind to win 2-1 against the Vancouver Whitecaps, earning the West’s first seed and securing the Cascadia Cup for the first time since 2012.
Vancouver Frustrate Portland Early, Score Opening Goal
Right off the whistle, each team’s game plans were pretty clear. The Timbers were looking dictate the game, create chances left and right, and open the scoring early. The Whitecaps were willing to be physical, defend deep, congest the box, and find chances on the counterattack, a tactic that can be effective in an environment as hostile as Providence Park and against a more suspect defense like Portland’s. While the Timbers were able to dominate possession, the Whitecaps were able to snuff out any dangerous passes and sequences in their third. Debutant Nosa Igiebor and the Vancouver defense looked comfortable to Portland’s frustration.
Vancouver eventually caught Portland’s defense sleeping and took the lead off a free kick early. Whitecaps Whitecaps midfielder Yordy Reyna found captain Kendall Waston unmarked in the box, who hit a thumping header past helpless Timbers keeper Jeff Attinella. It was the perfect start for the visitors, who only needed a point at Providence Park in order to secure the top seed in the Western Conference.
Portland’s Wake-up Call
It turned out to be a wakeup call for the Timbers needed. Two minutes later, the Timbers showed they had a response to the goal. Timbers’ Darlington Nagbe took a shot just inside the penalty area, only to have Stefan Marinovic parry it right into Liam Ridgewell’s path. The Timbers captain made sure he didn’t miss and gave the home team the important equalizer.
The Timbers continued to press for a second goal and saw more opportunities before halftime. A shot from Diego Valeri that sailed just over the goal. The Timbers’ counter that saw them on a 4-on-3 counter only to have Sebastian Blanco’s shot just hit over the bar. Another sequence from the Timbers resulting in some frantic yet heroic defending from the Whitecaps stopped Blanco’s shot. The Timbers kept knocking on Whitecaps’ door but couldn’t find the second goal to take the lead at Providence Park. Given the Timbers’ chances, there was a feeling that the 1-1 scoreline at halftime couldn’t stay that way by the end of the game.
Turns out that feeling came to fruition. Sebastian Blanco hit a perfect through ball to Vytas. The left back found Darren Mattocks open in front of goal. One cutback pass later to the striker, Mattocks had scored against his former club giving the Timbers the lead.
Pressure from Timbers Continue, Vancouver Struggle
Despite the lead, there was no feeling that the game was going to settle down. Blanco continued to seek that goal after missing that clear chance in the first. Instead, he hit two shots wide of the far post. The Whitecaps tried to return the favor by putting pressure down the middle, forcing the Timbers to give up free kicks in dangerous positions. However, they couldn’t replicate the opening goal and the Timbers’ defense were able to clear the danger comfortably.
Vancouver Rues Best Chance
The Whitecaps’ best attempt in the second half was in the 84’, as the Whitecaps looked to take advantage of another free kick deep in the Timbers’ half. Reyna found Waston again on the far post, but his header was saved by Liam Ridgewell. The danger wasn’t cleared yet, as Whitecaps’ Brek Shea managed to beat Diego Chara to the loose ball. His cross was met by Waston yet again, but he couldn’t keep the ball down and it sailed over the bar. The Whitecaps had to wonder if they could come up with a better chance than that.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t. Vancouver sub Fredy Montero took a ranged shot, looking to replicate a similar goal he scored against the Timbers in years past, but Attinella made a comfortable save. Portland would just hold onto the possession whenever they got the ball, forcing the visitors to watch their chances at the first seed slowly dissipate. A last-ditch effort saw the Whitecaps bring up Marinovic in hopes of getting that equalizer in the 95’. However, the Timbers stifled the set piece and eliminated out the danger.
Moments later, the referee blew the final whistle. The Cascadia Cup returned to Portland.
Porter on earning the first seed in the West: “34 games is a long season. For us to be after 34 games… Nine and half months… Top of the West, says everything about the group I have in that locker room. […] We did it with different guys as well. We deserved it. We earned it.”
Porter thinking to the playoffs: “That’s the first season. That’s done. Now the second season’s up and we got five games to win the [MLS] Cup.”