The Vancouver Whitecaps came into tonight's match intent on taking the full three points to give their playoff hopes a boost.
The Caps certainly would have pulled off the win this evening, and almost any other evening, were it not for three or four late all-world saves from Jamaican international Donovan Ricketts. Just ask Kekutah Manneh and Camilo Sanvezzo, both of whom were absolutely stoned point-blank by the Portland keeper. His selection as Man of the Match was indeed an easy one.
The First Half
Vancouver opened the match looking crisp, organized, and focused - earning a corner just three minutes in. On the attack, the Caps - in the first half - used width and plenty of one- and two-touch passing to put the Timbers on the back foot. And just 10 minutes in, Vancouver seemed to have had more possession than they managed the entire match against RSL.
In the early stages, Jay DeMerit had one or two shaky moments on the back line, but settled in and would be a standout once more as the game wore on.
In his best performance of the year, Darren Mattocks almost put the Caps up 1-0 at the 14' mark. Latching onto a through ball from Nigel Reo-Coker, and splitting two defenders, Mattocks' poke on goal glanced off Ricketts, and went just wide.
Just two minutes later, Reo-Coker was setting things up again, sending a ball into the box from the right, and just failing to connect with Camilo at the back post.
Immediately thereafter, it was Portland's turn to threaten, when recent pickup Maximiliano Urruti clipped Jack Jewsbury's cross only an inch wide of the top corner to David Ousted's left. Uncontested feeds in from the right flank would be a regular occurance for the Timbers, as the Caps regularly had numbers collapse down on the ball, leaving the far side, and Jewsbury, unattended.
The Timbers recovered from Vancouver's early pressure, and from about the 30' mark they began to establish extended spells of possession.
The first half closed out 1-0, with Portland putting their stamp on the match, as the Caps had seemingly lost all of their early attacking energy.
The Second Half
Vancouver continued in their 4-3-3 to open the second half, and for the first two minutes Portland continued to own the ball - essentially playing keep away, all rather successfully. However, tides can turn quickly in football, and it did again this evening.
Several times early in the second half, the Caps worked the ball down the wings, only to have the crosses gobbled up, or shots blocked.
Fifteen minutes into the second half, the Whitecaps almost got on the scoreboard when Camilo weaved into the penalty area, split Johnson and Wallace, and hammered a low sharp-angle shot that Ricketts could only get a foot to. The rebound fell to Mattocks, but a sliding Nagbe got in the block. DeMerit was in the neighborhood, but couldn't quite get to the second rebound in time.
At 63' Russell Teibert came in for Matt Watson, and Vancouver switched to a 4-4-2 diamond. The change of formation and tactics, combined with Kekutah Manneh coming in to relieve Daigo Kobayashi, would return the momentum to the Caps. But not before some more stunning heroics from Ricketts.
With 15 minutes left, Manneh and Camilo were denied by Ricketts just seconds apart and at point blank range. Just a minute later Camilo lined up for a free kick from 30+ yards. His power drive glanced off Wallace's head, changing direction just enough to beat Ricketts, down low and just inside the right post.
From the resulting kickoff, Portland raced downfield, and with Will Johnson coming into the Caps penalty area as the late trailer unmarked, the result was as predictable as it was painful. His shot deflected off a sliding Carlyle Mitchell, and found net - putting the Timbers up 2-1. But Rose City revelry would quickly be silenced.
Completing the trifecta, Camilo scored the third of three goals scored in the span of three minutes. And what a goal it was. After some impressive wing work from Mattocks which took the ball deep down the left side, Lee found himself on an awkward bounce from Mattocks' cross. He half-volleyed a lob back into the box, a ball which Camilo scissored spectacularly into the bottom right corner.
Two minutes into time added, Ricketts made his most spectacular save of the night - diving hard to his right to turn away a Manneh volley that had "hero" written all over it. The save preserved the draw for the Timbers, who were hanging on for dear life at the end.
Vancouver remains in 7th place in the West with 42 points, six points adrift of 5th place Colorado. San Jose are currently 6th with 44 points. Vancouver, Colorado, and San Jose have three games remaining.
The Caps are away in Seattle on Wednesday, while San Jose visits Colorado. Theoretically, Vancouver could lose on Wednesday and still make the playoffs - as long as Colorado loses all three of their remaining games (two of which are against Vancouver), and the Caps finish with more goals scored than Colorado.
If two teams are tied on points at the end of the season, then tie-breakers are applied as follows:
2) Goals for
3) Goal differential
4) Fewest disciplinary points
5) Road goals
6) Road goal differential
7) Home goals
8) Home goal differential
9) Coin toss