VANCOUVER, BC - professional sports are not just about teamwork, but are also about moments of individual magic and brilliance. On Sunday night in front of a packed house of 27,837 boisterous fans at BC Place the Vancouver Whitecaps needed some magic to defeat the Portland Timbers to advance further in the MLS playoffs.
That magic moment, sadly, never came for the Whitecaps, who were dealt the double blow of losing forward Kekuta Manneh and conceding a crucial away goal to the Timbers in five extremely pivotal minutes in the first half of the match.
"It [losing Manneh] changed things dramatically. The kid started the like a house on fire, and put us in the ascendency," Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson told reporters after the match. "When you don't score a goal over two legs, and unless you go to penalties you're not going to win a game of football. And that's what happened."
Before the teams even took the pitch Whitecaps fans were buoyed by the news that captain Pedro Morales would be making a rare start for the team. Morales, who was plagued by injuries for most of the year, looked rusty and was unable to influence the game in the manner that fans had become accustomed to during his brilliant debut season for the 'Caps in 2014.
The opening stage of the match was filled with excitement and chances at both ends of the pitch. Manneh had two quality chances in the first ten minutes to give the home team a dream start, but was unable to beat Adam Kwarasey in the Portland goal. Unfortunately once the speedy Manneh left the match the Whitecaps' attack became stagnant and incapable of fashioning scoring chances.
Already dealing with the loss of Manneh in the twenty-fifth minute, the Whitecaps found themselves down a by a goal when Fanendo Adi put the Timbers on the scoreboard just five minutes later. Despite Vancouver claims of a foul throw-in, some poor marking from Vancouver's defenders gave Diego Valeri the time and space he needed to cross the ball to Adi. The Nigerian forward made no mistake from close range and claimed a hugely important away goal for the Timbers.
With the comfort of having an away goal in their pocket the Timbers were able to concentrate on protecting their lead. As the match progressed Portland rarely found their goal under threat, although substitute Robert Earnshaw gave the 'Caps their best chance to draw level with a spectacular overhead kick five minutes from full time.
"I think the reason strikers are paid so much money in this game is because they're able to put the ball in the back of the net," said Robinson. "We haven't been able to do that, not just tonight, but for a number of games this year."
The match ended on a sour note when Diego Chara added a second goal for the Timbers deep into second half stoppage time. While the match had already been decided at that point, the goal was an embarrassing finish to what was otherwise a good year for the Whitecaps, who are one of the youngest teams in MLS.
Scoring has been a problem for the Whitecaps throughout the entire season, but despite the inconsistency scoring goals the 'Caps still managed to set a number of team records en route to a second place finish in the super competitive MLS Western Conference. With a long winter ahead of him, Carl Robinson now has plenty of time to identify and improve the areas in his team that need it most.
The prospect of improving the team over the winter is little consolation for the fans who packed BC Place on Sunday hoping to see their team win their first ever MLS home playoff match. Despite the records that were set the 2015 Whitecaps will most likely be remembered as a team that struggled through the final months of the year, and who could not reproduce the exciting form which propelled them to the top of the table earlier in the season.
While the end result on Sunday was disappointing the Whitecaps still have a talented core of players under contract for 2016 and beyond. The roster moves and decisions that the Whitecaps are bound to make during the offseason will be watched and carefully scrutinized by fans and pundits alike. The 'Caps raised the bar in 2015, but the question that we have to ask is this: can the Whitecaps build on the season that just ended and find success in 2016?
Only time will tell.
Budweiser Man of the Match: Tim Parker
Referee: Ismail Elfath
31' - POR - Fanendo Adi (Diego Valeri, Rodney Wallace)
90' + 4' - POR - Diego Chara (Fanendo Adi)
Shots: Vancouver 12 - Portland 14
Shots on Goal: Vancouver 2 - Portland 5
Saves: Vancouver 3 - Portland 2
Fouls: Vancouver 18 - Portland 21
Offsides: Vancouver 0 - Portland 1
Corners: Vancouver 5 - Portland 4
55' - VAN - Octavio Rivero
60' - POR - Rodney Wallace
62' - POR - Diego Valeri
72' - VAN - Steven Beitashour
89' - VAN - Robert Earnshaw
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
1.David Ousted; 33.Steven Beitashour (88.Robert Earnshaw 82'), 4.Kendall Waston, 26.Tim Parker, 2.Jordan Harvey; 28.Gershon Koffie (11.Darren Mattocks 63'), 15.Matías Laba; 13.Cristian Techera, 77.Pedro Morales ©, 23.Kekuta Manneh (7.Mauro Rosales 26'); 29.Octavio Rivero
Substitutes not used
70.Paolo Tornaghi, 6.Jordan Smith, 22.Christian Dean, 31.Russell Teibert
12.Adam Kwarasey; 2.Alvas Powell, 7.Nat Borchers, 24.Liam Ridgewell ©, 19.Jorge Villafana (23.Norberto Paparatto 67'); 8.Diego Valeri (13.Jack Jewsbury 84'), 21.Diego Chara, 6.Darlington Nagbe; 11.Dairon Asprilla, 9.Fanendo Adi, 22.Rodney Wallace (26.Lucas Melano 80')
Substitutes not used
90.Jake Gleeson, 4.Will Johnson, 20.Taylor Peay, 37.Maximiliano Urruti