In the first leg of their USSF D-2 Pro League first-round playoff series, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (1W-0L-0D) defeated Pacific Northwest rivals Portland Timbers (0W-1L-0D) 2-0 at Swangard Stadium on Thursday evening.
An early strike by Gershon Koffie and a first-half penalty by captain Martin Nash gave Whitecaps FC a valuable two-goal advantage to take with them down Interstate 5 for Sunday night’s decisive second leg in The City of Roses. In fact, the ‘Caps will consider themselves unlucky not to have had a more comfortable aggregate lead after hitting the post on two separate occasions during the midweek derby contest.
Thursday’s win was Vancouver’s first over Portland this season (1W-2L-2D) and their first victory at home since July 14. The result also ended the Timbers’ unbeaten run in USSF D-2 at 10 matches. The clean sheet also set a new Whitecaps FC record for shutouts in a single season at 17.
Whitecaps FC will look to complete the playoff series victory on Sunday evening when they meet the Timbers in the second leg at Merlo Field on the campus of the University of Portland. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. PT and can be seen live on whitecapsfc.com/live.
‘Caps head coach Teitur Thordarson made an intriguing shuffle to his starting XI, as Nash moved forward to start alongside Cody Arnoux in Vancouver’s attack. The tactical switch allowed Koffie to slot into central midfield alongside Terry Dunfield, with the Ghanaian youngster returning to action after missing last Saturday’s regular season encounter versus Portland through suspension.
The 5,018 that braved the cool autumn weather hoped for an exciting start to this much-anticipated clash between two clubs that are making the move to Major League Soccer next year. From the opening kickoff, they would not be disappointed.
Less than 60 seconds in, Whitecaps FC made the most of the first corner of the match. Philippe Davies’ inswinging set-piece was not properly cleared by the visitors, with the loose ball falling very kindly to an unmarked Koffie at the far post. His half-volleyed strike hit the underside of the Timbers crossbar before crossing the goal line for a 1-0 Vancouver lead. It was the West African midfielder’s first-ever goal for the Blue and White.
The early goal surprised – as much as it delighted – the home support, who had witnessed many goalless affairs involving the ‘Caps this season. Yet, even the most optimistic of Vancouver fans could not have anticipated of what was to come on 13 minutes, as the home side stunned Portland following another set-piece.
Once again, the youngster Davies orchestrated proceedings by producing a stellar save from Timbers goalkeeper Steve Cronin with his curling free kick. The rebound found its way to Blake Wagner on the left of the Timbers goal. As the winger tried to dribble towards the visitors’ net, Alhassan’s tackle on Wagner brought an immediate penalty decision from match referee Mathieu Bourdeau.
It was Nash that was given the responsibility of the spot kick for Vancouver, and he made no mistake with his left foot, with the penalty strike finding its way past a diving Steve Cronin in the Timbers goal for a 2-0 Vancouver lead. It was Nash’s fifth goal of the season and took him to seventh on the club’s all-time points list with 110.
In a state of shock by their slow start to this first leg, Portland’s first-half response resulted in chances from James Marcelin, Ryan Pore, and Bright Dike missing the target, while ‘Caps goalkeeper Jay Nolly did well to keep Timbers captain Ian Joy’s inswinging corner from reaching the back of the net.
Though a two-goal advantage had been established, Whitecaps FC were wise enough not to rest on their lead. On 40 minutes, Dunfield was left in agony after taking a pass on the run from Arnoux before hitting a left-footed shot that beat Cronin, but not the post. Three minutes later, Arnoux made strong appeals for a second Vancouver penalty after going down under the challenge of Timbers defenders Ross Smith and Stephen Keel in the Portland box.
It made no difference to the scoreline at halftime, as Whitecaps FC took their two-goal lead to the break.
Vancouver’s bright start to the match brought a new sense of confidence to their play when proceedings resumed for the second half. On 49 minutes, Nash forced Cronin into a fine save with his low drive before Koffie came close to scoring the goal of the season, as he tried to beat the Timbers goalkeeper with an audacious shot from just inside the Portland half on 57 minutes.
The second half also saw more attacking purpose from the visitors, with the league’s top goalscorer in Pore playing in a more attacking role alongside the battling Dike for the Timbers. Where they had success in the second half of last Saturday’s game, Portland found Vancouver’s backline and Nolly in solid form on Thursday. Their best chances to pull a goal back came from Dike and substitute Kevin Goldthwaite. Yet, in both instances, Nolly was on hand to make two excellent saves.
For Whitecaps FC, their quest was to try and extend their aggregate lead before the end of the match. Vancouver’s best chance of the half came on 80 minutes, but like Dunfield before halftime, Davies was left wondering about what could have been after his close-range strike hit the post following Wagner’s pass to the winger in the Timbers box.
Davies’ miss was a let-off for Portland, and after five minutes of time added on were played, the final whistle brought this first-round playoff series to the midway point, with plenty still to play for in Sunday’s second leg in Oregon.
90 FULL MINUTES
The winner of this first-round playoff series will meet either top-seeded Rochester Rhinos or eighth-seeded Puerto Rico Islanders in the semifinals. On Thursday night, Puerto Rico took the upper hand in their first-round playoff series, as they defeated the Upstate New York club 2-0 in the first leg in the Caribbean.
1′ – VAN – Gershon Koffie
13′ – VAN – Martin Nash (penalty kick)
Shots: Portland 10 – Vancouver 11
Saves: Portland 4 – Vancouver 4
Fouls: Portland 13 – Vancouver 24
Offsides: Portland 2 – Vancouver 3
Corners: Portland 4 – Vancouver 6
21′ – VAN – Greg Janicki
26′ – POR – Ian Joy
52′ – VAN – Martin Nash
54′ – VAN – Cody Arnoux
61′ – VAN – Gershon Koffie
79′ – VAN – Willis Forko
0.Steve Cronin; 15.Ian Joy, 20.Ross Smith (33.Kevin Goldthwaite 45′), 13.Stephen Keel, 25.Steve Purdy; 23.Ryan Pore, 11.Johan Claesson (8.Rodrigo Lopez 45′), 14.James Marcelin (12.Tony McManus 80′), 21.Kalif Alhassan (30.Takayuki Suzuki 85′); 18.Doug DeMartin (29.Ibad Muhamadu 74′), 27.Bright Dike
Subs not used: 1.Matt Pyzdrowski, 5.Quavas Kirk
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
1.Jay Nolly; 33.Willis Forko, 3.Luca Bellisomo, 14.Greg Janicki, 8.Wes Knight (20.Ethan Gage 73′); 23.Blake Wagner (77.Zurab Tsiskaridze 89′), 28.Gershon Koffie, 6.Terry Dunfield, 15.Philippe Davies; 7.Martin Nash (9.Davide Chiumiento 59′), 25.Cody Arnoux (16.Kyle Porter 76′)
Subs not used: 31.Simon Thomas, 24.Alexandre Morfaw, 55.Mouloud Akloul