Portland Timbers Melt the Whitecaps
PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Timers finally gave their fans something to cheer about for the first time since the firing of former coach John Spencer. The club has had its fair share of let downs this season but when it has come to playing their heated rivals, the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps, the Timbers have been nothing short of stellar.
After Saturday’s 2-1 win against the Whitecaps, the Timbers improved their point total in the Cascadian Cup to 7 points, which is three points clear of hated Seattle. Not only did Portland climb into the top spot in the Northwest’s most important competition but they also have a game in hand on both of the other squads in the Republic of Cascadia. While many fans, especially from Seattle, will say that the Cascadian Cup is insignificant when your team is fighting to stay out of last place in the league week to week, it has become the number one objective for Portland.
Winning the Cup would make this forgettable season a little more bearable and give the Timbers some momentum going into the 2013 season. While it is unlikely that the Rose City side will make a playoff run this season, the team is really starting to turn the corner and make some progress.
With highly touted offseason acquisition Kris Boyd on the bench for the second straight game, the Portland offense once again looked on point. The attacking combination of Darlington Nagbe, Franck Songo’o and Sal Zizzo has made its mark over the last two matches, as the team was able to put Vancouver under pressure from the very beginning.
The energy level in the first 30 minutes was impressive as it has been throughout August. The Timbers enjoyed nearly 70% of possession over the first 15 minutes, showing Vancouver and their fans that they were far better than their last place standing. The Timbers came close on a number of occasions, including forward Bright Dike slamming a ball off the crossbar late in the first half but it wasn’t long before the home side took the lead.
Darlington Nagbe became the first Timber to score in three straight matches in franchise history in the 41st minute. Midfielders Eric Alexander, and Jack Jewsbury, who kept up Portland’s tempo all day, set up the goal nicely. The captain found Nagbe with a perfect ball that fell right to the forward’s feet and he knew what to do the rest of the way. Nagbe’s confidence could not be higher right now and after blasting a shot over the crossbar earlier in the half, it was unlikely the he would blow another solid chance.
The shot off his right foot became his sixth goal of the season and he is finally starting to live up to the hype that he received when the Timbers drafted him. It wouldn’t be the 2012 Timbers season without controversyj followed by haphazard defense, however; and unfortunately for Portland, their unlucky streak continued before the first half whistle could sound.
In the 45th minute of the match, Vancouver fired a cross that floated out of play but were still rewarded a free kick from referee David Gantar. Upon further review it was quite obvious that the ball had not touched any Timbers player and that it should’ve been a goal kick. After much dispute from the Portland players and coaching staff, the Whitecaps took their corner kick and played it long.
Vancouver defender Jay DeMerrit recovered the ball after the Timbers couldn’t clear and found Kenny Miller unmarked and onside. Miller’s first MLS goal couldn’t have been made any easier as Portland keeper, Donovan Ricketts, had no chance at stopping the sitter. It once again seemed like Portland’s was cursed this season but the team stepped up their play greatly in the second half and made some season defining plays.
In the 55th minute, Songo’o once again made his mark on the season by whipping a free kick from about 30 yards out past Vancouver keeper Joe Cannon. It wasn’t the best free kick and the goal keeping was less than spectacular but in this easily forgotten season, the Timbers will take any luck they can get.
The strong play of the young offensive trio hasn’t been the only surprise that has come from the Timbers over the last couple of matches; the recently acquired Ricketts has been a welcomed change to the Portland defense. The former Montreal keeper has allowed three goals in his two matches with the club but none have truly been his fault. He has paired this with some truly outstanding saves, and while former Timber Troy Perkins is tearing it up in goal for the Impact, Ricketts is having an unexpected presence on this team.
The 74th minute provided some serious drama for the home side as the ‘Caps loaded up the box and peppered Ricketts’s net. The goalkeeper came well out of the goal and it seemed as though Vancouver would get their equalizer as Camilo Sanvezzo lofted a ball over the head of the keeper. Portland defender Steven Smith was able to rush to the line and head the ball to safety, keeping the score in favor of the home side.
Smith’s play was easily the play of the match and might be the turning point that this side has been desperately looking for all season. The match ended at 2-1 and the Timbers gained their first three points under the much-bemoaned Gavin Wilkinson. The simple question for the Timbers is, “so now what?”
The heat will obviously still be on Wilkinson, who cannot seem to win the Timbers fans over. Throughout the match, banners reading “GW Out!” were being waved and the fans don’t seem to be changing their opinions anytime soon. Nothing short of a title run would save GW’s job at this point and performances like this against hated rivals will only put a band aid on a perpetual wound.
It is unfortunate to be so negative on a derby day in which the Timbers got three points but that has become the culture in Portland under Wilkinson. The win was special, there is no doubting that, but it also Portland’s first win in their last eight matches.
The Timbers will hit the pitch Friday against cellar dwelling Colorado. Portland was embarrassed 3-0 the last time the two sides faced off and will be out for revenge after their big Cascadian victory.