It’s very uncommon for a Cascadia Cup meeting to fail to meet expectations and deliver the tension, physicality and talking points the rivalry has consistently produced since its inception. Saturday’s contest between the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps proved no exception to the rule, with a controversial decision to award a penalty coming only thirty minutes into the action and intensity a constant theme. This was the second fixture between the two of 2015, with an underwhelming home display yielding three surprise points thanks to a dramatic stoppage time winner from Robert Earnshaw the first time out. Many would suggest that the visitors from Lower Cascadia deserved more than to return to the Rose City empty-handed and for good reason, however taking results against the odds is something the Blue and White are quietly coming to master in 2015.
Carl Robinson’s men have enjoyed a very strong start to the regular season, taking the league by storm with their position towards the top of the standings since falling 3-1 at home to Toronto FC in the opener. The campaign is one of ebb and flow, though, and sustaining the trailblazing form that propelled the Caps to conversations across Major League Soccer through March and April was always going to represent a tough task. That difficulty has come to fruition with only one victory coming from the last four outings as the team succumbed to a 1-0 defeat against the San Jose Earthquakes, drew 2-2 with Columbus Crew SC, beat Real Salt Lake on the road at Rio Tinto and last week suffered a disappointing home loss to D.C. United. Portland made a typically slow start under Caleb Porter, but have started to find their feet enjoying victories over FC Dallas and New York City FC in April. Diego Valeri [ACL] and Will Johnson [broken leg] have been unavailable up until very recently and their absence in "Soccer City, USA" has been glaringly evident, so expect a change in fortunes to materialize very soon.
Matias Laba’s dismissal for two yellow cards was one of the primary reasons observers have pointed to for how the match with DC transpired and his suspension opened the door for Gershon Koffie to enter the line-up. Steven Beitashour is dealing with a gluteus maximus problem and was replaced for the first time this year by Ethen Sampson. Jordan Harvey took to the pitch in place of Sam Adekugbe, ostensibly with the upcoming Voyageurs Cup ties with FC Edmonton in mind. Mauro Rosales and Darren Mattocks kept their spots in the starting eleven as means to facilitate the threat in transition the weekend’s opposition have been hurt by in recent memory, while also improving the abject build-up play on show in the previous clash. Valeri’s second consecutive appearance in the game day eighteen was notable after spending six months out recovering from a torn ACL sustained against FC Dallas in late October of 2014. He was joined on the bench by Portland’s top-scorer through eight games, Fanendo Adi, with Maxi Urruti nominated to lead the line on his own.
Proceedings began with the same sort of sparring as the highly touted prizefight disturbing my stream throughout the ninety, with Vancouver happy as ever to adapt to unwelcoming surroundings on the road. The energy inside Providence Park soon translated into urgency for the hosts, presenting many a problem for the guests, and the atmosphere seemed to consume everyone within the stadium almost. Pa-Modou Kah, returning to his first club in North America for the first time, was especially entranced by the occasion and some suspect positioning from the Gambia native led to a penalty call for handball thirty minutes in. Darlington Nagbe stepped up to the plate, but couldn’t direct his spot-kick past David Ousted, instead rocketing his effort into the woodwork much to the relief of the minority behind enemy lines down in Oregon. Urruti failed to convert a similarly inviting opportunity to open the scoring with a free range header inside the eighteen-yard box and the opening 45 reached a conclusion shortly thereafter.
As the second half progressed, the tempo increased in correlation and soon chances increased in frequency for both sides. There was great rhythm to Portland’s play through swathes and their confidence was apparent, yet the Caps managed to release the pressure far more effectively than they had done when they last absorbed this attacking direction. It should be noted that Rosales, with far more measured distribution of possession than any of the other options on the right flank, was in some part responsible for this. As the chances of the ball hitting the back of the net entered unprecedented likelihood, fouls became more cynical with the intent to disrupt momentum going forward. It was far from the perfect performance from the Allen Chapman, however he deserves credit for not letting the situation escape from his grasp like so many have before him. Most referees – in MLS anyway – would have dished out bookings until there were no players remaining on the field and it’s always a shame to see that aspect of the battle become the biggest topic of discussion. At the very least we can all be thankful such dismally predictable officiating didn’t eventuate on the night.
Soon the Timbers began to keep the ball in Whitecaps territory for far longer than the favour was returned and fatigue combined with the hostile environment to the extent that the Kings of Ca5cadia going a goal down felt somewhat inevitable. Although Valeri’s return to action didn’t seem rushed, his movement off the ball particularly impressive, he passed up the chance to break the deadlock where he would otherwise have probably beaten Ousted firing on all cylinders. First round draft pick at #13 overall Tim Parker helped inject some added security with his substitution for Sampson and ultimately the very tested defensive resolve was enough to reap an invaluable point on the road. It marked the fifth clean sheet in ten fixtures and continues an outstanding record of ten points from five games away from home. In terms of the Cascadia Cup, the draw bodes well and helps to distance VWFC from PTFC early, always welcome even in May. I think there’s incentive for optimism with the Amway Canadian Championship sandwiching between the fixture with the Philadelphia Union - and a fight with the Seattle Sounders at BC Place following on from that - ahead. Hopefully inspiring a return to winning ways.
Kendall Waston was unbelievable from start to finish and is a worthy recipient of the Budweiser Man of the Match award. David Ousted wasn’t asked too many questions by Portland’s attack and, along with a collective effort from the entire back-line, he can thank the mammoth Costa Rican for that. Fanendo Adi endeavoured to draw fouls for the entirety of his cameo, but Kendall kept his cool and avoided the yellow card we naturally come to expect given his powerful style and the precedent set by incompetent decision-making from the men with the whistle. As a result, one of his yellow cards is chalked off and in doing so gives Kendall more license to defend naturally. Laba is perhaps the most important player in this team and his work turning defence into offence was sorely missed, but to leave with a result despite the lack of his presence in the midfield is testament to the depth at Robbo’s disposal. Harvey enjoyed his best showing of 2015 to this point too, assured at left-back and unfazed by every obstacle in his way. While Octavio Rivero couldn’t add to his goal-scoring tally for the fourth successive game, his impact defensively was profound and motivated his supporting cast to remain disciplined. His patience is very encouraging and will surely be rewarded over coming weeks as he looks to win games single-handedly once again.