Timbers and Whitecaps fight to a draw

The Portland Timbers headed north to play their final regular season game as a lower-division team, battling long-time rivals the Vancouver Whitecaps in a 2-2 draw at Swangard Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

The Portland Timbers headed north to play their final regular season game as a lower-division team, battling long-time rivals the Vancouver Whitecaps in a 2-2 draw at Swangard Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The match was a fitting climax to 10 years of competition in the Division 2 League, as both franchises will be promoted to the Major League in 2011. 

In front of over 5,000 energetic supporters, the Timbers and Whitecaps offered 90 minutes of fast-paced, back-and-forth soccer. Although both teams had already clinched spots in the postseason, no punches were pulled and each side came out swinging from the opening kickoff.

A grueling and physical contest, the teams combined for 28 total fouls in a game that possessed all the drama and excitement of an Ultimate Fighting Championship match.

The Whitecaps landed the first big blow. In the 27th minute, off a Vancouver corner kick, midfielder Martin Nash (younger brother of the NBA’s Steve Nash) redirected the incoming pass off his head toward teammate Terry Dunfield, who then barreled into the crowd and knocked the ball past Timbers keeper Steve Cronin for the game’s first goal. 

Despite Portland controlling the ball and keeping possession for most of the first half, it was Vancouver that created the more dangerous scoring chances. The Whitecaps outshot the Timbers 13-7 for the game and held a 1-0 lead at halftime. 

Portland responded quickly to open up the second half.  In the 46th minute, after a Vancouver give-away at midfield allowed Portland to push deep into the offensive third, midfielder Kalif Alhassan picked up a loose ball and quickly chipped a shot through the box and past the outstretched hands of Whitecaps keeper Jay Nolly. 

Portland took control in the 56th minute, when midfielder Ryan Pore skillfully weaved his way into open space on a Timbers counter-attack. With the Whitecaps’ backline on his heels, Pore sent a through-ball to forward Bright Dike, allowing Dike to get behind the defense and blast a shot into the back of the net for the 2-1 lead.

However, Vancouver wouldn’t stay down for long. In the 68th minute, midfielder Kyle Porter sent a beautiful bending cross into the box towards a crowd of Whitecaps players at the far post. Forward Cody Arnoux found the ball with his head and put away the game-equalizing goal. 

With the game knotted at 2-2, both teams continued to fight hard and play with desperation; the match closed with a flurry of action.  In the 90th minute, Nash ripped a long arching shot from over 30 yards out towards the Timbers’ goal, causing keeper Steve Cronin to make a leaping, fingertip save.

Portland had a chance to score in stoppage time, as forward Doug DeMartin caught a pass deep inside the Whitecaps’ box, sending a rolling shot just wide of the goal.

With the draw, the Timbers finish the regular season on a 10-game unbeaten streak and will head into the eight-team playoffs as the No. 4 seed. Portland also wins the 2010 Cascadia Cup with a record of 2-0-2 against Vancouver this season. The Whitecaps fall to fifth in the overall standings, meaning Vancouver and Portland will meet in the first round of the playoffs.

In an ironic twist of fate, these two bitter rivals, in their final season of D-2 Pro League soccer, will now face off in a postseason rematch—a bigger stage, where the stakes will be much higher.

The D-2 Pro League playoffs begin this week, with teams competing in a two-game, aggregate goal series. Each team will host one home game and the team with the higher total goals from both games will move on to the next round.

Game 1 between the Timbers and Whitecaps is scheduled for 7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 7, at Vancouver’s Swangard Stadium.  Game 2 will be played 6 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 10, at the University of Portland’s Merlo Field. 

Expect a grueling and intense series between the Timbers and the Whitecaps, as both teams will be desperate to end their final D-2 Pro League season on a high note.

However, the sacrifice these players are willing to make for their heartfelt rivalry was perhaps best represented by Saturday’s final play. The Timbers earned the last scoring chance of the match in stoppage time, after a hard foul was committed just outside of the penalty box. A wall quickly formed in front of the goal, with players elbowing and jostling for position in front of midfielder Rodrigo Lopez, who would fire the ensuing free kick towards the human barricade.

The shot ricocheted off the face of Vancouver defender Mouloud Akloul, sending him tumbling to the ground in pain. In order to prevent the possible game-winning goal, Akloul quite literally took one right on the chin.