On the final Sunday afternoon of their 2016 Major League Soccer season, the Vancouver Whitecaps looked impressive against the Portland Timbers. After a disappointing season in which the Whitecaps failed to make the playoffs, despite being a pre-season favourite to challenge for the Supporters Shield and MLS Cup, the team turned out a performance that can only be described as professional, and retained the Cascadia Cup, securing it for the first time (in MLS play) at home.
In a game that Portland needed to win to have the opportunity to defend their MLS Cup from last season, the Vancouver Whitecaps came out strong and dominated most of the match. After some early pressure, Giles Barnes scored his first as a Whitecap in the 13th minute, off a great cross from Fraser Aird. It was nice and disappointing to see as I would have liked to have seen Aird passing in more balls like that throughout the season.
Unfortunately, Kendall Waston made a typical Waston move in the 26th minute, with a pointless foul (punch?) at Fanendo Adi that could have changed the entire match with a sending off. Although it would have been his 4th red card of the season, he saw only yellow and the match continued.
However, Waston's mistake was quickly forgotten, thanks to some lovely footwork from Barnes in the 32nd minute, that gave him the brace and the Caps a 2-0 lead.
Needing to win by three to claim the Cascadia Cup, things were looking good for the Whitecaps heading into the half with two goals already obtained. Yet, I am sure I was not the only one who was a bit worried as the Caps have had a tendency to look good in the first half and come out flat in the second.
The typical story line though was not meant to be, as the Whitecaps continued their pressure in the second half and looked poised to pocket their third goal. After having a great shot from close range saved by Gleason in the first half, Pedro Morales decided to try from a bit further out, and delivered a blistering shot in the 54th minute, from the corner of the 18... and promptly removed his jersey for the goal/yellow combo. I have to say though, Kei Kamara still wins for Decision Day goal/yellow Combo (go check out his twerking).
After fighting to maintain possession in the box and slotting the ball to Morales, Bolanos continued his strong play and setup Mezquida for the Whitecaps fourth goal, one minute later in the 55th; effectively sealing the Timbers playoff-less fate and giving some breathing room in the Cascadia Cup standings.
However, it would not be a Whitecaps match without a little bit of anxiety. After a Jordan Harvey penalty, converted by Diego Valeri in the 72nd minute, the Whitecaps had to hold-on for the last 15 minutes to win the Cascadia Cup. I am sure, once again, I was not the only one a bit nervous, thinking back to the Canadian Championship match against TFC earlier this year in which the trophy was ripped from the team's hands in, literally, the last minute. This anxiety intensified in injury time when it looked like Levis would have to sit-out the last two minutes and the Caps would be down to 10. Flashbacks came flooding back!!
In what was probably the closest finish in Cascadia Cup history, with all three teams finishing with 9 points, the Whitecaps were victorious, winning on a goal differential of +1, compared to Timbers 0 and Sounds -1.
For a team not in the playoffs, this final week of the regular season was an eventful one for the Whitecaps. Thanks to an unexpected draw by Pachaua, the Whitecaps finished first in the Champions League standings (and will play New York Red Bulls in February). In potentially a passing of the torch situation, Ousted and Morales had a dust-up at practice. Finally, the Whitecaps finished the season with some hardware for their fans, and eliminated their Cascadia rival from the playoffs in the process. FYI, it is the first time neither MLS Cup finalists made the playoffs the following season.
There will be changes this off-season for the Whitecaps, but even those that leave will be able to say that their last match as a Whitecap was a positive one, that included some hardware, and most importantly professionalism. They leave the fans with a positive taste in their mouths.