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Post Match: It Wasn’t Pretty, But it Worked

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The Vancouver Whitecaps have points in 5 of their last 6 matches, but are these results sustainable?

MLS: Portland Timbers at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Whitecaps defeated the Portland Timbers on Friday night by a score of 1-0 at BC Place Stadium. While over the course of the first 20 minutes the Whitecaps played some of their most attractive, positive, attacking football of the season - the last 70 minutes were hardly a masterpiece. The Whitecaps found themselves holding on for dear life in much of the second half, but ultimately, they were strong enough defensively to secure the clean sheet and a home victory which vaults them into the MLS Western conference playoff places. So hey, it wasn’t pretty, but it worked.

The Whitecaps entered the matchup with no changes to the lineup for the first time in MLS this season, perhaps in a vote of confidence following a 3-2 victory in Colorado last week.

Building on a very positive opening spell of play, the Whitecaps found the score sheet just 9 minutes into the first half when Hwang and Teibert linked up to eventually spring Fredy Montero open in the box. Montero’s finish was absolutely clinical as he smashed it home into the top left corner, and it certainly looks as though the Colombian striker has regained the offensive confidence Whitecaps fans were used to seeing back in 2017.

The Whitecaps would continue to find themselves on the front foot as the half went on and in the 12th minute, Ali Adnan sprung play open with a clever chop step followed by a shot which a Timbers defender almost deflected into the back of his own net.

In the 13th minute, the Whitecaps nearly found another goal when they pulled off a cleverly executed set play off a corner kick, something which we had seen them working on at the training ground this week - here’s to hoping we see them add more plays like this to the locker over the course of the season.

In the 25th minute, the Timbers began to take hold of the match, nearly scoring twice in short order off corner kicks. Fortunately for the Whitecaps, goalkeeper Max Crepeau was up to the task on both occasions.

Sebastian Blanco picked up a yellow card on an off-ball altercation with In-Beom in the 28th minute but other than that moment, things were relatively quiet for the rest of the first half. Perhaps it was just coincidence, but much of the steam went out of the game at around the 35th minute mark, which just so happened to coincide with the supporters groups walk-out protest.

All in all, it was a good first half for the Whitecaps, who held a strong lead in possession at 56-44% and held a collective passing accuracy of just over 87% as a team. Both Whitecaps centre-backs were particularly sharp on the stat sheet, as Doneil Henry had 5 clearances and Erik Godoy completed 29 passes, including 1 key pass, at a rate of 96.6%.

The Whitecaps found themselves on the back-foot right off the bat in the second half, surrendering a high-rate of possession to the Timbers in the opening minutes. In the 59th minute, Doneil Henry was forced to make a strongly committed sliding tackle, clattering Diego Valeri to the floor for his troubles and preventing a potential scoring opportunity.

Erik Godoy would pick up a yellow card on a similar sliding tackle attempt in the 61st minute (which went less successfully than Henry’s) and the Whitecaps found themselves having to bunker in very deep defensively, doing just enough to prevent the Timbers from scoring but struggling to take care of the ball once they had regained possession.

In an effort to alleviate the defensive pressure, Marc Dos Santos brought on midfielder Andy Rose in place of In-Beom Hwang. Rose has been a leader for the squad both on and off the pitch all-season long, and there was a noticeable uptick in defensive organization once Rose was on the pitch.

Despite this, the Timbers had perhaps their best chance of the night in the 72nd minute when Diego Valeri found himself practically unmarked in front of goal, but could only muster a shot straight into the arms of Max Crepeau.

Ali Adnan had a second chance to open his Whitecaps account in the 78th minute, this time weaving through two Timbers defenders on a charging run but only managing to blast his weak footed shot into the legs of Timbers keeper Steve Clark.

The Timbers had one final high-quality scoring chance in the 79th minute, but Blanco’s second phase snapping header was cleared away from goal by the head of Whitecaps defender Erik Godoy.

While the Timbers had amassed an impressive 27 shots by full time, it still wasn’t enough for them to find a goal, and the Whitecaps escaped with a 1-0 home victory.

By securing the full three points against Portland, the Whitecaps have put themselves in a rather curious position. On one hand, they’ve only barely managed to beat two western conference bottom-dwellers in the Timbers and the Rapids. Yet at the same time, the Whitecaps have already managed to secure a clean sheet against three of their biggest western conference foes in Seattle, LAFC and Portland. I think this has gone understated, there were times last season where it felt as though the Whitecaps would never keep a clean sheet again.

While the end product is still a considerable margin away from where manager Marc Dos Santos wants his team to be in the long run (the Whitecaps lost the possession battle yet again 52-48% at full time), the backbone for a successful MLS campaign is finally starting to take shape. The defensive core of Crepeau, Godoy and Henry have been outstanding in recent matches, including this one, and Fredy Montero is finally looking like the striker we expected him to be coming back for his second stint with Vancouver. Call me a delusional optimist or a dreamer if you like, but it looks as though things are finally starting to come together. After all, the Whitecaps have taken home points in 5 of their last 6 matches, and a win is still three points no matter how ugly it might have looked at times.