The Portland Timbers clinched the Cascadia Cup with a 1-nil defeat of the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place, notching the team’s first road victory of the 2012 campaign in the process.
After a loss to the Seattle Sounders in their previous Cascadian derby two weeks prior, things looked bleak for the Timbers before the night began, but a 39th minute wonderstrike from captain Jack Jewsbury proved all that was needed to win the club’s first silverware in the MLS era and avoid matching an ignominious record of away day ineptitude.
Needing points to secure a playoff spot, the hosts were in no mood to hand their guests the trophy on offer. On paper Martin Rennie’s side appeared deeper, even more so with the return of Darren Mattocks and Omar Salgado from injury to offer numerous attacking options off the bench alongside Dane Richards in reserve.
Interim Portland manager Gavin Wilkinson shed his lab coat as he did away with the experiment of Rodney Wallace and Lovel Palmer as starting outside backs, Kosuke Kimura and Steven Smith returning to the lineup as Hanyer Mosquera also resumed his regular starting role in partnership with David Horst in central defense.
A slight shift in formation saw Franck Songo’o play as a deep lying striker in the hole behind Bright Dike, Darlington Nagbe sent wide opposite Sal Zizzo on the flanks with Diego Chara in behind to provide cover with Jewsbury.
There was little to do for Vancouver netminder Brad Knighton and his counterpart Donovan Ricketts in the early exchanges, neither side able to test the gloves with any ferocity.
Camilo was provided two chances from Barry Robson and Kenny Miller, but Ricketts easily corralled the first and the Brazilian spurned the second wide. In reality, the biggest danger Ricketts faced was an errant backpass from Smith, the Jamaican forced to clear the ball with his feet as his defender’s attempted clearance went awry in the 14th minute.
As the half hour mark passed Portland began to press forward with more regularity, and after Knighton smothered a Dike header from a Zizzo cross, the match started to open up.
Portland were looking too comfortable in possession when Jewsbury laid a ball off to Nagbe, who then found Smith with space on the wing. The Scot’s cross was cut off by Songo’o at the top of the eighteen yard box, the Cameroonian’s more central position ultimately beneficial as a controlled touch sublimely settled the ball into the path of Jewsbury.
The skipper’s technique was superb as he stepped into execute a perfect half volley, and when the shot sailed past the splayed figure of Knighton into the net at the far post, the travelling Timbers Army dared to believe as Cascadia Cup celebrations began in earnest.
The goal was reminiscent of Jewsbury’s last goal against FC Dallas in August, an excellent strike in its own right, but this one from even further afield will be long remembered for its importance in salvaging silverware in a season written off long ago.
Portland played out the remaining minutes of the half to preserve their slim advantage, and came out of the interval with a rare lead to protect. That good fortune started to sour shortly after the restart, Mosquera suffering an injury that forced Wilkinson to replace him with Eric Brunner in the 48th minute.
Brunner served as an able deputy in a role he was accustomed to as a starter before a head injury in the first encounter between the two clubs back in May started a long layoff for the centerback. That experience shined through as Brunner and Horst showed an immediate understanding, and the Whitecaps rarely tested the pair in the second half.
Rennie tried to intervene offensively by inserting Richards for Alain Rochat in the 61st minute, followed by the rookie Mattocks for Camilo in the 67th. Heads were shaking when the influential Songo’o was taken off for Rodney Wallace at the same time, memories still fresh of the Costa Rican’s defensive failings in his last outing overlooked for his more positive qualities in midfield.
Portland looked more likely to extend their lead than cede an equalizer, a 75th minute Dike blast parried into side netting by Knighton one of few clear chances after intermission. Two minutes later Vancouver made their final change as Salgado entered for Matt Watson on the left wing.
A quiet night from Robson continued when he sailed an open effort over the bar in the 79th minute, and visiting hopes rose as the clock ticked down. A breakaway minutes later saw Nagbe release Zizzo into space, but the winger’s shot couldn’t find the frame.
Wilkinson played his final card with Danny Mwanga coming on for the hardworking Dike in the 85th minute, and the visitors went on to do something they waited for all year, display the poise and composure to close out a win on the road, earning their first prize in the top flight to boot.
The Whitecaps were despondent in the loss, still winless in Cascadia since joining MLS, and were thankful to their southern neighbors in Seattle for dispatching FC Dallas, that result making Vancouver the first Canadian club to earn a postseason berth in league history.
That news will be scant consolation to British Columbians, who for a second straight year watched their rivals exchange the Cascadia Cup as they played spectators in the regional competition’s formal handoff.
While many in Portland might prefer to swap places with their just vanquished foes, the token of a tangible reward to take home this season offers incoming manager Caleb Porter a positive platform to build on during the offseason.
Portland look forward to a final home match in six days time against the Supporters Shield winning San Jose Earthquakes, a game that will be a fitting matchup to mark the end of the temporary coaching tenure of general manager Wilkinson.
In spite of an abysmal record putting them among the league’s worst, if the Timbers hope to someday extend their dominion beyond Cascadia, they must outplay the league’s best.