As always, I'm happy to be proven wrong when I call for a Vancouver Whitecaps defeat. Taking a point away from the madhouse that is JELD-WEN Field is no small feat for any club. With that single point, Vancouver now moves clear of FC Dallas for fifth place outright and no longer needs a tiebreaker to hold that spot down. Instead, it's the Los Angeles Galaxy who use a tiebreaker to sit at fourth place on the same points (33). Meanwhile, the Portland Timbers continue to sit only two points and two places up on the 'Caps - third place on 35 points, tied with the second-place Colorado Rapids. All in all, it's a nice group of teams to be within striking distance of and, should next week's match against the San Jose Earthquakes go well, will make life very interesting down the stretch as the Western Conference frontrunners jockey for those top five positions.
...and that's about where my positivity well for this Cascadia Cup tilt pretty much goes dry. Good gravy, was that a nasty match or was that a nasty match? When the first yellow card is coming out after only four minutes - a blatant yellow at that by Alvas Powell - you know you're in for a dogfight. The two teams combined for 31 fouls, the most notable of which was caused by Brad Rusin at the 15' mark. Rusin awkwardly took down playmaker Diego Valeri, earning himself a yellow card as he was being stretchered off the field. That's right - Rusin earned a foul, a card and what was initially suspected by the Sportsnet
raging homers broadcast team to be a broken ankle, all on the same play. Hey, remember that depth crisis the Whitecaps have been suffering through at centre-back? Yeah, it's still here. At least Carlyle Mitchell performed admirably in ninety minutes of relief duty, handling the hostile atmosphere and aggressive opposition well enough to preserve a draw. Thank goodness, too, since it's likely we haven't seen the last of Mitchell as the injury crisis wears on. Here's hoping he puts in a similar defensive performance next time.
As for the game that theoretically took place between all the whistles, it was a tennis-like grind of longball after longball by both sides, broken up occasionally by bursts of attacking-third possession either turned over (Vancouver) or shot wide (Portland). Flipping through my scribbled game notes, I see numerous entries of "thumped long", "shot wide" and "weak shot at Ricketts". That's pretty much the game in a depressing nutshell, folks.
In my round-table assessment of the match, I singled out Daigo Kobayashi as someone who I felt was in "now or never" mode - as in, show us you belong on the pitch now or you'll never see the starting eleven again barring suspension or injury. For the first ten minutes, it looked like Kobayashi was ready to prove himself. Then he took a stupid yellow card for a late, studs-up tackle and proceeded to be generally average the rest of the evening, minus the agonizing giveaway that led to the Portland goal where Kobayashi managed to downgrade himself in my eyes from "generally average" to "waiver bait". After moving upfield on a counter that might've yielded something, Kobayashi lost the ball and Portland went the other way, finding Valeri alone with time and space out wide to serve up a juicy cross that Ryan Johnson had no problems heading home after losing his marker. Speaking of markers, let me just grab my red one here and circle "never" as an answer to my earlier Kobayashi query.
David Ousted got the start in goal for the Whitecaps and had a good night, Johnson's goal notwithstanding (though to be fair, you could hardly fault him on it). The caveat with that assessment is that he was hardly seriously challenged, not being forced into any demanding saves or tricky situations with crosses or corners. It's certainly not a performance that should be used as a grade for Ousted or whether or not Knighton should get the next start. With that in mind, don't expect the starting position in goal to be solidified any time soon. Either 'keeper could be in goal against the San Jose Earthquakes, so I guess the 'Caps have at least one position on the field fully covered depth-wise. Progress!
While Camilo Sanvezzo looked gassed from about the 60' mark onwards likely due to his extended All-Star duty, he went the full ninety minutes against Portland and even managed to set up the 'Caps tying goal. After Pa-Modou Kah earned a yellow card, the Whitecaps did some set piece trickery and played the resulting free kick short and quickly, sending Camilo charging in on the left, just outside the penalty area. His pass would be deflected out for a corner which the wee Brazilian promptly whipped in himself, finding the head of Jordan Harvey amongst a gaggle of potential targets both friend and foe and bouncing into the net. Harvey attempted to celebrate his fourth goal of the season by leaping at Camilo, a decision that resulted in a navel-to-face hug by Harvey on the pint-sized striker.
What followed was twenty minutes of nervous hell as Portland experimented with options other than longballs to, shock and amazement, great success. In the 76th minute, an abysmal job of defending by the Whitecaps after a series of Portland set pieces gave the Timbers chance after chance to put the game away; mercifully, they shot either wide, into a defender or from an offside position; Kah's tap-in was ruled offside by the assistant, marking the end of Project Try Something Other Than Longballs and a return to foul-and-longball-and-foul soccer. Realizing the game needed some drama to close it out, the soccer gods bestowed knocks on both Johnny Leverón and Matt Watson, the latter being enough to draw medical attention. Thankfully, both players would manage to walk their injuries off and finish the game.
Ultimately, if you like your rivalry matches to be gritty, physical affairs with blood both bad and spilled, you got your wish tonight. On the other hand, if you watch a professional soccer game and expect to see, y'know, professional soccer, there wasn't much to be had at JELD-WEN on this day.