If you thought the Whitecaps' depth couldn't be tested any harder, the loss of Kendall Waston to Gold Cup duty would beg to differ to you. With Waston serving Costa Rica, Pa Modou Kah on the shelf and Diego Rodriguez not ready to return, Christian Dean - arguably the bottom of the barrel when it comes to MLS-ready defensive depth for the Vancouver Whitecaps - drew into the starting eleven alongside Tim Parker. A pair of first-round picks (Dean in 2014, Parker in 2015) guarding David Ousted is either boundless confidence or sheer desperation by Carl Robinson - all things considered, I'll put him down for "desperation". Also adding youth to the starting lineup were Kekuta Manneh and Nicolas Mezquida, the latter displacing Cristian Techera who had seemed to nail down that starting spot with his recent performances. Evidently, not so much.
At the opening whistle, the 'Caps showed no fear whatsoever, going straight on the attack. Nothing came of it, though to be fair, both sides spent the first 10' generally feeling each other out and attacking without any venom. That changed a minute later as Vancouver did what they do best on the road: counter with pace. Taking off on the left, Manneh sent a long cross into the Portland box which Adam Larsen Kwarasey - who you'd think by now would know the bounces of his home field - misplayed, watching as the cross bounced off the turf and over his head. Mezquida charged after it but couldn't connect and the ball went out for a goal kick. Not long after, Matias Laba made one of his trademark midfield steals, winning the ball and springing Octavio Rivero. Try as he might, though, Rivero couldn't out-dance Nat Borchers and his shot was blocked. Mezquida was in position to launch the rebound at goal but again Borchers was there with the block. To cap off the impressive start, Manneh made an absolutely filthy move at midfield, putting himself Diego Chara and into the clear to go one-on-one with Kwarasey. While the shot had pace, the 'keeper was well off his line and able to make himself big, snuffing out yet another good Vancouver chance.
From there, Portland took over. More than a few seeking crosses just missed their mark at the far post - prompting Ousted to lambast his defense in no unclear terms - but the highlight chance came from the Timbers' recovering captain Will Johnson. Positioned outside the penalty area, Johnson found the ball after a Portland chance and unleashed a howitzer at the corner of Ousted's net, missing the post by a hair's width and, by the sound of it, leaving a ball-sized dent in the advertising board. If there was ever a "trial by fire" moment for a Vancouver rookie, this would be it - wave after wave of Fanendo Adi & Co. bearing down with aplomb.
Then, after a midfield turnover, the 'Caps struck back. Laba, Rosales and Mezquida played one-two-three with the ball before Rosales spruing Manneh on a gorgeous run. This time, Manneh rounded the 'keeper and put the ball on target... only for Borchers to come thundering in and clear the ball off the line at the last second. That has to be demotivating for the young Gambian - great run, great move, on target, and then a massive bearded lumberjack comes storming in to ruin your day. On top of that, Manneh appeared to aggravate a prior leg injury and needed the physio while the corner was taken (and headed over the net, because of course it was).
When Vancouver's pressure finally ebbed, Portland took their chance and took it well. Diego Chara stripped Matias Laba(?!) in midfield and surged into the rush with Adi and Diego Valeri - two people you don't exactly want thundering towards your rookie centre-backs. Unsurprisingly, Adi fed Valeri and set the Argentine up for a glorious chance after Dean wavered in his commitment on who to cover. Surprisingly, the shot by Valeri beat Ousted at his near post, which you wouldn't expect from Ousted considering the season he's had to date. Heck, going back to the beginning of that play, you wouldn't expect Laba of all people to be so easily dispossessed - it's typically Laba doing the dispossessing. Regardless, the ball was in the back of the net and the Timbers were up 1-0 at 33'. Dean's going to get quite a bit of flak for his defending on that play but don't forget that Jordan Harvey was cheating well up the field expecting to overload the flank with Manneh. It's a risky play to expose two rookies like that - Harvey should've shown a touch more caution.
Before the half was out, the 'Caps had plenty of set pieces to try and equalize the score but - guess what? Vancouver still stinks at converting set pieces. It didn't matter who was taking headers, where they were being taken or if the headers were laid off for shots - zero threatening chances were generated from corner and/or free kicks. There was one tantalizing chance just before halftime when Rivero managed to get himself free but an onrushing Kwarasey again made himself big and snuffed out the chance before Rivero could drag it around. The half ended 1-0 for the Timbers, though the stats suggested they were lucky to have the lead. Vancouver led in shots 11-6, shots on target 3-2 and corner kicks 5-1. Still, there's only one stat that matters and it's the one that gets you either three, one or zero points in the league standings.
With no substitutions made at halftime, it was the same lineups on the field when the whistle blew to start the second half. Unfortunately, the bit where the Whitecaps were dominant never left the locker room (again). Portland put their foot down quickly and the pressure began building on the Vancouver net. Off a corner, Will Johnson was again left free to uncork a rocket but Nicolas Mezquida fortuitously found himself between the ball and the net, saving Ousted from having to do any tough work. After that scare, Vancouver began to slow the pace of the game down - aren't you supposed to do that when protecting a result, not chasing? - and spent some time in possession in Portland's half of the pitch. There were a few probing moves but nothing threatening, though it should be noted Manneh sent in another shot that was blocked by Nat Borchers. Is he hiding a ball magnet in his beard? Or just a Manneh Detect-O-Matic? It didn't matter - the Portland defense was on point tonight.
And then Laba sent in a brilliant bomb from distance to equalize the score.
No, seriously. I did not mistype that line. Yes, that Matias Laba. Yes, out of nowhere, from a good 25 yards when zero Timbers put pressure on the defensive midfielder who is not known for his scoring prowess. Yes, into the far corner where Kwarasey had no hope of getting it. Well, the goal had to come from somewhere, didn't it? Why not the defensive linchpin? 1-1 at 57' and suddenly we have a scoreline that reflects the game to this point. Matias, you are forgiven for losing the ball to Chara for the first goal.
Perhaps not wanting to lose this offensive momentum (or perhaps being mindful of the not-insignificant July heat), Robbo made his first substitution at 67', bringing in Cristian Techera for Nicolas Mezquida. Not wanting to be left out, Caleb Porter simultaneously brought in Rodney Wallace for Dairon Asprilla. Of the two, Asprilla had the more effective body of work on the night, though both were decidedly average on the whole. Techera, on the other hand, immediately made his mark by spurring on a dangerous Vancouver attack (weakened somewhat by an off-the-ball tackle on Kekuta Manneh that went unnoticed). In the end, Jordan Harvey floated in a cross that Mauro Rosales headed high and wide of the net and into the Timbers Army.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the park, Christian Dean apparently saw Matias Laba make amends for his part in the Portland goal and thought, "Hey, I should probably do something good, too." Showing no fear and excellent technique, Dean then went in with a lovely tackle on a charging Fanendo Adi inside the penalty area. There was no hint of a foul and, a short time later, it would be Adi's last offensive chance of the game as Maximiliano Urruti was subbed in for him. It was inarguably the highlight of Dean's night, though his overall performance wasn't horrible. There was one very key rookie mistake that cost the 'Caps a goal but he (and Parker, it must be said) recovered admirably and put in a good shift.
As the match approached its end, the subs came in to reinforce Portland's attack and bolster Vancouver's defense, respectively. Gaston Fernandez sent a dangerous looking free kick towards David Ousted shortly after the forward entered the game but couldn't keep the shot on target. Other than that, the only real danger in the match's final moments was a Valeri free kick that deflected off Parker, then Borchers, before forcing a close-range save out of Ousted. Vancouver weren't about to make things easier for themselves, though, as Jordan Harvey earned himself a straight red for a dangerous, two-footed tackle from behind on Diego Valeri seconds after losing possession deep in Portland territory. It was eerily similar to his oh-no-I-lost-the-ball-HARVEY-SMASH tackle last year against Chivas USA, which is not a good trend to see in Harvey's game. At least this one didn't cost the 'Caps a result, as Juan Guzman blew for full time in short order.
Guzman's night wasn't done, though, as the handbags came out at midfield like you'd expect for a heated, physical Cascadia derby. Players came together, were pulled apart and sent both into the referee's book and into the dressing room by a flashing of yellow and red cards. Check the summary below for the final tally, which may be updated as the disciplinary report comes in. The important take-away is this: Harvey is gone for the next match, which means Russell Teibert will likely go into his rarely-used left-back mode. Well, unless we can graft some bionic limbs onto Sam Adekugbe to skip the whole "wait for your body to heal itself" process. Stupid biology.
33' - (POR) Diego Valeri (Fanendo Adi)
57' - (VAN) Matias Laba (Kekuta Manneh)
22' - YEL (VAN) Tim Parker, foul
36' - YEL (POR) Liam Ridgewell, dissent
47' - YEL (POR) Diego Chara, foul
90'+2 - RED (VAN) Jordan Harvey, serious foul
90'+3 - YEL (POR) Rodney Wallace, off-the-ball foul
90'+5 - YEL (POR) Will Johnson, dissent
90'+5 - RED (POR) Will Johnson, foul and abusive language
67' - (VAN) Cristian Techera for Nicolas Mezquida
67' - (POR) Rodney Wallace for Dairon Asprilla
76' - (POR) Maximiliano Urruti for Fanendo Adi
83' - (POR) Gaston Fernandez for Darlington Nagbe
84' - (VAN) Russell Teibert for Mauro Rosales
90' - (VAN) Kianz Froese for Kekuta Manneh