On a rainy Saturday night in Portland, the Vancouver Whitecaps battled hard, but ultimately fell to the Portland timbers by a score of 3-1 at a freshly renovated Providence Park. While Portland has long been one of the premier venues in MLS, the most recent set of renovations to the historic ground are incredibly impressive, and have done a nice job mixing modern amenities with the retro, quirky charm which makes Providence Park such an enjoyable place to watch an MLS match. With all that being said about the facility, the supporters and the atmosphere they create are perhaps the most notable aspect of a visit to the Timbers home venue. Both Cascadia veteran Andy Rose and newcomer Theo Bair, commented on the atmosphere they experienced on Saturday in Portland:
“This is what you come to expect from these games” said Rose “Obviously, the atmosphere, the fans make it so great. With the rain and whatnot, it helps as well with the speed of play and the way the ball moves. From the outside, it’s a special evening obviously, some incredible goals. But for us, it’s frustrating to be on the receiving end of a couple of those.”
Although Rose is well seasoned at the MLS level, this was Bair’s first start on the road in Cascadia, and it was clear he enjoyed the venue. “It was great, the atmosphere was really good...It’s an unbelievable stadium.”
For the Whitecaps, Bair was undoubtedly the man of the match. Not only did he score an absolute wonder goal, but his overall play and composure on the ball was very impressive. The young Whitecaps Academy product has taken massive leaps since his struggles early on in the season, and it’s great to see someone not named Alphonso Davies beginning to rise from the academy ranks.
Bair is always a man of few words, but he did share some of his thoughts post-match on his first MLS goal. Bair explained that the volleyed shot was something he’d thought about pre-match, and even discussed with backup Goalkeeper Zac MacMath:
“I actually spoke to Zac...he told me that they never expect you to shoot when your back is to the goal, so just do it and see what happens. It was the most unbelievable experience of my life.”
Unfortunately for the Whitecaps, they fell victim to more wonder goals than they themsleves scored. The Timbers opened the scoring with a long range knuckler from Sebastian Blanco in the 28th, and the Timbers regained the lead in the 55th when Timbers Development Squad product Marvin Loría rocketed one in from well outside the box.
Loría’s goal proved to be crucial, as the Whitecaps were confident coming out of the first half with the score level, but ultimately were unable to keep pace with the Timbers in the second half. After the match, Head Coach Marc Dos Santos reflected on the shifting tides throughout:
“Our first half was very good. We were able to get the tying goal and we felt very good at halftime. They get the second goal on a deflection, it was a good shot, but it’s unlucky there. Then it’s 2-1 and we still pushed, if there was a little bit more belief in the box, I feel we could’ve tied.”
While the first half ended with a contentious hand-ball shout which went in favour of the Whitecaps, offside calls would ultimately come to haunt Vancouver in the second forty-five minutes. In the 57th minute, Yordy Reyna looked to have the match tied up at two goals a piece, but after a long wait, the offical on the near touchline raised his flag and called the play offside. From my perspective in the press box, I though the right call was made, but it was certainly by the thinnest of margins.
Later, in the 89th minute, after the Whitecaps had made some tactical changes (reverting to a 4-4-2) and looked to be threatening to tie the match once again, the Timbers iced the match on the counter attack, taking a 3-1 lead. Jeremy Ebobisse was the eventual goalscorer, but the Whitecaps were primarily perturbed by an apparent offside in the buildup. These things are often difficult to judge, and camera angles don’t always do the play proper justice, but in this case, Conechny certainly looked to be offside.
Marc Dos Santos spoke briefly and relatively cautiously about the supposed missed call after the match, instructing the assembled media: “You guys go see it, it’s not worth it for me, you go look at the images”. And though Dos Santos may have a point, at the end of the day, the Whitecaps were unable to find a second goal, let alone a third, and would eventually fall victim to the Timbers by a final score of 3-1.
Even though the Vancouver Whitecaps now sit in last place in the Western Conference standings and have been eliminated from Playoff contention, this was one of the most thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable matches of the 2019 season. Hopefully, continued quality performances from players like In-Beom and Bair will keep the rest of the season entertaining. And who knows, we might even see a young midfielder earn a start or two down the line, supposing that Jon Erice has now been banished to the bench for all eternity.
(I’m still not sure how that happened exactly, so if you have any theories, on this or anything else Whitecaps, be sure to let me know in the comments!)