The Vancouver Whitecaps eliminated the Portland Timbers from the 2010 USSF D2 playoff picture Sunday evening at the University of Portland’s Merlo Field. The Timbers won the match, 1-0, but couldn’t come up with another goal and the ‘Caps advance on aggregate goals. 2-1, after scoring twice in the first 13 minutes of the first leg match at Swangard Stadium. The ‘Caps will meet the Puerto Rico Islanders in Bayamon, Puerto Rico on Thursday in the first leg of their semifinal match. The Timbers saw the end of their D2 era, and look forward to competing in MLS, along with the ‘Caps, in 2011.
Sunday’s game was played at Merlo Field because PGE Park, the Timbers’ long-time home, is undergoing renovation in preparation for its MLS debut. Merlo Field was packed with Timbers fans, though, and the fast, grass surface and the fans so close to the field made for an exciting contest. Neither team was able to score in the first half, although Portland had chances on two headers by forward Doug DeMartin in the 8th and 39th minutes that went wide of the goal, and Bright Dike also missed on a headed shot. Vancouver’s first half offense was limited to a shots by captain Martin Nash and youngster Gerson Koffie that flew over the Portland goal. Portland outshot Vancouver 8-3 in the first half.
Portland found a goal early in the second half, though. Haitian midfielder James Marcelin found the back of the net in the four minutes after intermission, as he headed a cross from former St. Pauli defender Ian Joy past Vancouver’s goalkeeper Jay Nolly. Leading 1-0, the Timbers still needed another goal to match Vancouver’s two from the first leg, but were unable to do so. Despite outshooting Vancouver 7-2 in the second half, Portland chances kept missing the mark as they continually applied pressure on Vancouver’s defense. Twice there was a scramble in the ‘Caps box with a loose ball, but the Timbers could not net. Vancouver had a couple of chances by Ridge Mobulu and Blake Wagner, but looked satisfied to defend and wait for counter-attack opportunities.
The tension mounted as the minutes wound down, with Coach Gavin Wilkinson’s Portland club continuing to apply pressure, but a second goal never came. The Timbers hustled through the five minutes of stoppage time, blasting long kicks in the Vancouver third of the field, but their desperate attempts were in vain. The final whistle sounded and, despite the Timbers 1-0 win, it was Vancouver who continue onto the playoff semifinals.
Vancouver Coach Teitur Thordarson was naturally quite happy with the result. “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.” The Vancouver defense, the league’s best throughout the regular season, deserve admiration for shutting out USSF D2’s scoring leader, Ryan Pore and forward Bright Dike throughout the series.
Congratulations are also due to the Timbers for gallantly fighting back in their attempt to find another goal. The Timbers went through a rough patch earlier in the season but rose to the occasion, reeling off a ten-game undefeated streak to gain the fourth playoff seed before losing to the Whitecaps in the first leg of the series. Although there surely is disappointment in Portland right now, the future of the franchise shines brightly.
Portland Starting Lineup: Purdy, Keel, Joy, Goldthwaite, Pore, McManus, Marcelin, Alhassan, Dike, DeMartin Subs Used: Suzuki, Lopez, Muhamadu
Vancouver Starting Lineup: Nolly, Janicki, Gage, forko, Bellisomo, Wagner, Koffie, Dunfield, Davies, Nash, Arnoux Subs Used: Mobulu, Porter, Morfaw