Timbers eliminated in first round of playoffs

After a roller-coaster ride of a regular season, the Portland Timbers were knocked out of the first round of the USSF Pro League Division-2 playoffs by their Northwest rival, the Vancouver Whitecaps, on Sunday.

After a roller-coaster ride of a regular season, the Portland Timbers were knocked out of the first round of the USSF Pro League Division-2 playoffs by their Northwest rival, the Vancouver Whitecaps, on Sunday.

For the Timbers and their fans, the ride is over for now, or at least until 2011 when the Timbers will be promoted to Major League Soccer.  However, despite being one of the D-2 League’s top franchises, the Timbers will leave without a championship trophy after 10 years competing in the lower division—a bitter pill to swallow. 

Forward Dough DeMartin described the outcome as “very disappointing.”

“Devastating,” said team captain Ian Joy. “I feel a bit empty inside.”

“I just can’t believe the season is over,” added midfielder Ryan Pore. 

Although the Timbers won Game Two of the series 1-0, at the University of Portland’s Merlo Field on Sunday evening, the Timbers still lost the two-game aggregate goal series with a total score of 2-1. 

In Game One at Vancouver’s Swangard Stadium Thursday night, the Timbers dug themselves into a quick hole when they allowed the Whitecaps to score two goals in the first 13 minutes of the match. 

In the first minute, off a Vancouver corner kick that was deflected into the box, Whitecap midfielder Gershon Koffie volley-kicked the loose ball out of the air. Koffie’s shot flew past Timbers keeper Steve Cronin, bounced off the bottom of the crossbar and landed just past the end-line for a goal.

In the 13th minute, a foul by Timbers defender Ross Smith resulted in a Vancouver free kick just outside the top of the box. Whitecap midfielder Philippe Davies sent a bending shot over the Timbers’ defensive wall that clanged off the side post over the outstretched arms of diving Cronin.

In the ensuing chase for the loose ball, Timbers’ midfielder Kalif Alhassan was called for a foul for a sliding tackle on Whitecaps’ midfielder Blake Wagner inside the box, resulting in a Vancouver penalty kick. Midfielder Martin Nash (younger brother of NBA star Steve Nash) blasted the resulting PK toward the left corner of the goal, and despite a strong effort by Cronin, the ball grazed off his fingertips and into the back of the net.

Portland was poor on both sides of the ball, hesitant and careless on offense and failing to find a consistent rhythm on defense. Vancouver scored two goals on 11 shots, while the Timbers would take 10 shots, but rarely put Whitecaps keeper Jay Nolly in any real danger.

Perhaps the worst performance of the season at the worst time, the Timbers had dug themselves into a deep hole.  With the playoffs set up as a two-game, aggregate-goal series—meaning the team with the most total goals after two games would be the winner—the Timbers went into Game Two needing to win by three goals in order to advance to the next round.  

With 5,000 supporters packed into the intimate confines of Merlo Field, the stage was set for a thrilling finish to the Timbers’ first round playoff series. 

The Timbers pressured Vancouver from the opening kick, dominating possession and creating numerous scoring chances.  Although the match was scoreless at the half, Portland took the confidence and momentum with them into the break, and it wouldn’t take long for them to strike in the second half. 

In the 49th minute, off a deep cross into the box by Joy, midfielder James Marcelin leapt above the crowd to head the ball past Nolly and cut Vancouver’s aggregate-goal lead down to one.  With the goal total now at 2-1, the Timbers needed only one more goal to force an overtime period and to keep their championship hopes alive. 

Portland continued to pour on the pressure and attacked a Vancouver defense that was packed into their box and set on playing prevent-soccer. With a passionate Timbers Army cheering them on, Portland continued to control the game and found numerous scoring chances. 

During one stretch, the Timbers earned three set pieces in a row. The first was a free kick just outside the offensive third, followed by two corner kicks at either side of the field. Joy served up three consecutive balls deep into the Whitecaps’ box, nearly leading to the series-equalizing goal, but ultimately the Timbers came up short. 

“It’s been an up and down year,” DeMartin said. “But overall we had a good season. It’s just frustrating for it to end this way.” ?