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Post Match: Portland Timbers see off Whitecaps 3-2 in first Cascadia clash

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

A roller coaster second half brought two penalties, four goals but it did not shake out with three points in the Caps’ favor, as Portland Timbers prevailed 3-2 over Vancouver Saturday at BC Place.

The match was closer than the scoreline appeared, but a clinical evening for Portland, a couple Vancouver defensive miscues and a lack of clear cut chances for the Caps ultimately brought defeat in the first Cascadia derby of the year.

The starting XI brought a lot of familiarity, with a couple tweaks. Florian Jungwirth returned to the starting lineup after a knock for Tristan Blackmon and he slotted alongside Ranko Veselinovic and Cristian Gutierrez, who was playing in a CB role. Ryan Raposo returned to the lineup as a reward for a strong performance last week and Cristian Dajome returned as a wingback.

Seb Berhalter also made an appearance alongside Russell Teibert, with the usual suspects in attack: Deiber Caicedo, Brian White and Ryan Gauld

The Caps did well to keep the Timbers at bay early, creating a couple half chances for themselves to boot. The best of these was a vintage Ryan Gauld aerial ball for Brian White, but the striker just couldn’t get his foot around the resulting shot.

Both teams continued feeling each other out, though the Caps looked a bit more fluid of the two teams. That began to stagnate, however, and both Yimmi Chara and Dairon Asprilla were afforded space to work to create some Timbers chances.

This resulted in the opening goal of the match. A strong Timbers break appeared to be dealt with, but not without Cristian Dajome clattering into Marvin Loria. While not initially adjudged to be a penalty by Silviu Petrescu, VAR asked for a second look and a spot kick was (correctly) called for.

Asprilla converted the resulting penalty past a sprawling Thomas Hasal to put the Timbers up 1-0, a blow for a Caps side when a 0-0 halftime score was probably the fairest reflection of the first half.

The second half brought more of the same — shutting off a lot of Portland attacks, creating some half chances but nothing more clear cut than hitting the side netting off a Gauld header.

While the backline was generally well-organized, a moment of disjointed positioning was punished, with Jaroslaw Niezgoda finding space on the lefthand side, shredding a late-arriving Jungwirth and Veselinovic and blasting the shot past a helpless Hasal to make it 2-0.

The addition of Javain Brown and Pedro Vite seemed to give the Caps a boost, as they put together their most threatening period of the game. A fantastic long-range strike from Berhalter forced a diving save out of Aljaz Ivacic and it brought a bit of momentum with it.

The Caps continued to force saves out of Ivacic and their persistence was rewarded with a lovely curled finish from Cristian Dajome after some pleasing build up from Javain Brown and Deiber Caicedo, the latter of which had a nice turn to find his Colombian partner. The Caps were, at this point, firmly looking like the better team.

The joy was short-lived, however, as no one could force Yimmi Chara off the ball and clear the Caps’ lines and the winger takes advantage of the ball being left out on a platter for him to put it into the roof of the Vancouver goal. One where the Caps were unlucky not to clear their line but also a lack of focus that was so frustrating after pulling a goal back.

What seemed to be a stroke of good luck after VAR ruled Claudio Bravo hacked down Gauld in the box was turned on its head when Ivacic, who had an excellent match, stopped Dajome. While the Caps batted 1.000 from the penalty spot in 2021, that streak won’t be continued in 2022.

One penalty, however, brought another. A streaking Caicedo was pushed over by Bravo in the box and Petrescu pointed to the spot. VAR disagreed but the on-field referee double downed on his call. Gauld took the ball this time and buried it into the roof of the net.

A frantic final 30 seconds however, did not buy an equalizer for the Caps and the match ended 3-2.

Random Thoughts

  • In case you needed a reminder that Dajome still has not fully figured out the defensive part of playing as a wingback, the penalty he conceded in the waning moments of the first half was a painful reminder of an area he needs to improve on. He had a couple of other inopportune moments defensively, where he just lost track of guys in transition — but also frustrated the Timbers going forward and scored a goal. You have to take the good with the bad here.
  • Defensive organization was generally decent in the first half but the second 45 was a nightmare, with guys really switched off, leading to that second Timbers goal was obviously one of them. Ranko Veselinovic not clearing his lines on the third goal was also a head-scratcher and one wonders if Hasal could have done a bit better with the resulting finish.
  • One positive to take away from this: Seb Berhalter looked solid in the number six role, to the point where he was left on the pitch at the expense of Russell Teibert when the Caps were chasing the game. Berhalter’s ability to switch play is welcome and while the organization of the midfield still leaves something to be desired, his intuition and vision to try and play some aggressive balls into the final third was welcome. Has a nice shot from distance as well.
  • Thought this was a match where Deiber Caicedo could show what he could do. While he was admittedly quiet in the first half, the Caps were certainly struggling offensively after Portland attempted to sit back a bit more. As things began to open up in the second, he began to have some more success. The assist (and winning a PK) was a fitting reward for a good match.
  • Credit also to Pedro Vite, who put together three key passes in about a half hour of work and generally looked quite dangerous

Main Takeaways

I thought a 3-2 scoreline flattered Portland, though ultimately the Caps cannot switch off on defense and expect not to get punished by a team of Portland’s quality. You also can’t start attacking in earnest when you are 2-0 down and expect to get caught up. There were some positives — and hey, better to go down fighting in a rivalry game than to give up — but the fundamental questions for the Caps were not answered here.

Still, the team looked better with Pedro Vite on the pitch and Russell Teibert off it, a move that will have to force Vanni Sartini to consider that arrangement for a full 90 minutes against Montreal. Start this match with those guys on the pitch and perhaps the Caps wouldn’t be playing a game of “what if?”

Man of the Match

Dajome had too much of an up-and-down match to get the nod here. Rather, it was Ryan Gauld who was back to his silky smooth best for much of this one, leading the team in shots and helping to pull the strings as the attack (finally) came together in the final half hour. Caicedo, whose praises I extolled above, is the other main contender; his pace caused problems and his playmaking really shone tonight.