The 2016 season may been a dud but it ended with fireworks with Vancouver Whitecaps defeating their fierce rivals Portland Timbers 4-1, keeping them out of the playoffs and ending their season, all whilst claiming a record breaking sixth Cascadia Cup.
Vancouver were led by a first half brace from Giles Barnes, his first goals as a Whitecap, to go along with second half goals by Pedro Morales and Nicolas Mezquida while Diego Valeri responded for the visitors late on from the spot.
The home side struck in the 13th minute when Barnes took a pass from Fraser Aird at the top of the box and picked the top right corner with a laser to set Vancouver on their way.
Then came the two game-changing moments that will have Portland cursing their luck, or rather lack of it.
The first came in the 20th minute when the ball came off the post and fell to Lucas Melano yards from a wide open goal, but the Argentine couldn’t get a clean foot on it to come up with the miss of the season.
Minutes later, there was a flashpoint between Kendall Waston and Fanendo Adi right in front of the Portland bench. The Costa Rican first hit Adi on the ass, then slapped him in the stomach, with the Nigerian going down like a ton of bricks. Waston got a yellow card, that will surely be a retroactive red, and the ‘Caps kept all 11 men on the pitch.
They made that pay two minutes past the half hour mark when Barnes got his second of the afternoon as he forced a turnover on left side and fired a shot inside the far post to beat Jake Gleason.
Pedro Morales extended the lead nine minutes for the Caps into the second half when the captain intercepted a clearing attempt and fired the ball past the outstretched hands of Gleason.
Less than a minute and a half after the third goal, Nicolas Mezquida struck for the fourth of the night taking a pass from Christian Bolanos and then making a great individual run into the box scoring the eventual Cup winner.
With under twenty minutes to go the Timbers received some hope when they were awarded a penalty which was converted by Diego Valeri. However it was not enough and the Caps closed the match to become Cascadian Champions.
With the ‘Caps missing the playoffs for the third time in six MLS seasons, the first under Carl Robinson, Vancouver will go into the offseason on a positive note but realizing there is a lot of work to be done if they want to return to the playoffs.
FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 4 – 1 Portland Timbers
VANCOUVER: David Ousted; Fraser Aird, Kendall Waston, Tim Parker, Jordan Harvey; Pedro Morales, Matías Laba; Christian Bolaños (Blas Pérez 87), Nicolás Mezquida (Andrew Jacobson 74), Giles Barnes (Brett Levis 84); Erik Hurtado [Substitutes not used: Paolo Tornaghi, Masato Kudo, Cristian Techera, David Edgar]
PORTLAND: Jake Gleeson; Alvas Powell, Steven Taylor, Jermaine Taylor (Gbenga Arokoyo 67), Vytas; Jack Jewsbury, Darlington Nagbe; Lucas Melano (Jack Barmby 46), Diego Valeri, Darren Mattocks (Jack McInerney 82); Fanendo Adi [Substitutes not used: Chris Konopka, Ned Grabavoy, Zarek Valentin, Amobi Okugo]
On today’s win:
“As happy as I am today for the supporters, because they stuck with us, I said pregame to them you find out about true fans, real fans, when things are going tough. Not when the good times are there and everyone jumps on the bandwagon. I asked the players to put on a performance for the fans and try and get those three goals back to win that trophy for the supporters. Did I think we could do it? I did. I had a feeling we could do it. Consistency during the season showed me we probably weren’t going to do it. But they answered and they got what we deserved in the end which was a very, very good performance, and a victory, and obviously managed to win the Cascadia Cup for our supporters.”
On knocking out Portland Timbers out of the playoff race:
“Listen, I’ve got a lot of respect for Caleb [Porter] and Portland as an organization, and it’s a game of football. You know, we got knocked out of the playoffs last year by Portland who went on to win MLS Cup and I give them a lot of credit for that. It wasn’t about that, it was about us, me and my players, and about us saying thank you to our fans. And unfortunately for Portland, they were in the way, and that was it. There wasn’t a hidden agenda to try and knock Caleb and Portland out because I’ve got too much respect for them.”
On taking positives out of ending the season on a high note:
“I do, without a doubt. When you have a difficult run, and we have had a difficult run, there’s no hiding from anyone. We have to be open and honest, and I am, my players are. It’s important that you salvage something out of it and what we’ve managed to salvage this year, from a difficult season, is Champions League football, as number one seed, which is a great achievement for us, and also winning the Cascadia Cup. We were five seconds away from winning the Amway Canadian Championship and we were two wins away from getting into the playoffs, and if we had gotten two extra wins, and if we would have held on for five seconds, everyone would have said it’s an unbelievable season. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen and it’s been a difficult year, but a lot of learning has been taken onboard by me and my coaches, and hopefully by my players as well. So yes, there are a lot of positives to take out of it but there’s also a bit of honesty as well, and we haven’t been quite good enough on a consistent basis to get into the playoffs, but there’s a number of other teams that haven’t either.”
On aspects of today’s game that were most pleasing:
“All week, I challenged my players to work and play with energy. We’ve got a young group of players. With youth and enthusiasm comes hunger. We will focus more on that next year as well. We’ll continue to build what we’re doing. I wanted them to make an uncomfortable afternoon for Portland because they’re already a good team. They’re not MLS Cup champions from last year for no reason. They’ve got fantastic players. Their players have stepped up a lot of the time this season. I wanted them to feel uncomfortable. That’s credit to the players and we managed to get the result. It’s probably the intensity with which we played.”
On Giles Barnes scoring two goals:
“Giles is a great character, he really is. If you play Giles up front and he doesn’t get a shot, he wants to play wide left. If you play him wide left and he doesn’t get a touch, he wants to play centre-forward. A bit like Kekuta Manneh. I just told him to be positive. He was playing against his friend Alvas Powell, who’s a fantastic player as well. I thought we could cause him problems by focusing on certain areas. Credit to Giles, he took it onboard and he’s done it. Today, he exploded so there are a lot of positives for Giles.”
On Pedro Morales’ performance:
“Pedro was great. I can’t fault any of our players today, I really can’t. I thought we played with energy, enthusiasm, will and desire. We haven’t done that enough times this year, which is why we are where we are. Pedro gets a goal and puts on a very good performance, a really solid performance. It was enjoyable to watch him. He enjoyed playing in the game. He got tired towards the end, and scored a fantastic goal. He should be proud of his performance.”
On scoring two goals:
“It’s important to stay away from the goals but how well the team performed in general. It’s great to end the season with something the fans can shout about. It was a very up-and-down season. It gives them something to look forward to next year. I’m happy we obviously won the [Cascadia] Cup as well. I’m most pleased the fans got something to shout about for the last game of the season.”
On how good that team can be next season:
“We were on a little bit of a low. I think the confidence was low. When we score first, there’s no team better than us in the league. We need to keep that mentality going through when we go down a goal, whether it takes us a while to score. Our team is littered with very gifted players that work really hard. I think everyone should be excited for what can happen next year. I’m glad the fans got to see that level of performance today.”
On Pedro Morales’ performance:
“It was good for Pedro to score in the last few games. He’s the captain of the club. The passion is always there. It’s great for him to end the season with a goal. I’m very happy for him.”
On today’s win:
“I knew we had it in us. Obviously, it’s too late. I’m delighted to give the fans a last victory and get them the Cascadia Cup, and show that we are better than how we performed this year.”
On avenging last season’s playoff loss to Portland:
“It hurt a lot last year, getting knocked out, especially at home. This was a little payback, and making sure the fans got something to end the season on.”
On Pedro Morales’ performance:
“I thought he was fantastic today. The goal was brilliant and I thought he played really well today.”
On today’s loss:
“Disappointing. Obviously, the performance was not good enough. Defensively, we leaked goals. Obviously, without [Liam] Ridgewell and [Diego] Chara, you can see we were missing some quality. That’s where your depth needs to step up. They didn’t. We had some guys who really had poor performances. You can’t win when you get that. We got that across the board. For me, it was in the defensive side that I was most disappointed. It just felt like we bled goals. It’s not just the back four. It starts with guys on the wings that got us the first two goals. Why? We gave the ball away in a bad spot in both of the first two goals. And then we just didn’t defend. We ask our wingers to defend. On those first two goals, they didn’t do it. We’ve struggled with that all season long. If you can’t defend two-v-two in this league on the flanks, you’re going to be vulnerable, and we were.”
On potential turning points in the match:
“Obviously, there were some turning points that maybe could’ve changed the game. At 1-0, we could’ve walked the ball in the goal and now we’re 1-1. Obviously, the decision of the official not to give a red. I’m sure that will be a retroactive, which would be our fifth or sixth of the year. Those are factors of the game.”
On the team’s depth:
“When I look at the overall performance, I didn’t think we were good. I didn’t think we defended well. I thought we got some surprisingly poor performances out of some of our key guys and some of our depth pieces that we have to plug in with some of the absences that we had. When you look at the last two games – our Champions League on Wednesday, and this game, we had two key guys out in both of those games. I think that sums up our season. On Wednesday, [Fanendo] Adi and [Diego] Valeri were out. When we needed our depth to step up and get the job done, they didn’t. And this game, Chara and Ridgewell were out. We needed our depth to step up and get the job done, they didn’t. When I look at the season, we had injuries but for me it was more of the depth because you will have to be able to manage the season with injuries, everybody gets them. If you don’t have depth that could get the job done when they’re called upon, you’re going to struggle to win games. I thought that most of those situations happened on the road, when we lost guys, and that led to us being not good on the road. When we had the group put together, mostly at home, obviously we were very good. Four or five weeks ago, where I basically said, this is our top lineup. We played that lineup three times and won all three games. The other three games that we didn’t have our top lineup, we lost. What do you blame it on? You blame it on injuries, you blame it on depth. I blame it on depth because ultimately, you have to have a good enough bench to get the job done regardless of injuries. I think Wednesday and today, is a bit of the story of the season.”
On the offseason:
“There has to be some long, hard discussions and reflections on what went wrong. It’s a combination of things. For me, there were holes on the team all year. Some of those holes started with cap-related issues. Some of those holes were compounded with injuries that put pressure on the bench to perform. We’ve dealt with holes all season long on this squad. Those holes led to inconsistent lineups, lack of continuity, which meant inconsistency in the performance and chemistry. We need to correct that now. The real challenge is to correct that. You immediately look at recruitment of new players. That leads to more chemistry issues. I think we have to be smart in looking at the roster. We still have a very good core group of guys, but there will definitely be some players that were on the fringe of being starters and guys on the bench that we need to look long and hard at, and make some tough decisions on because that’s for me where we fell short. Obviously, you’ll hope that you don’t have to deal with as many situations over the season where you had as many guys out. If you do, you have to be prepared. I’m never at the end of the year going to say, tough season because of those injuries. You have to be prepared with a good bench. We lost some key guys after winning the championship. Some of the new guys were put under some pressure early on to get the job done and they didn’t. In another year, will they? Those are the things we’ll have to look at. We’re definitely very disappointed in the season. There’s going to be some reflection and some correction, and there are going to be some changes certainly. There’s going to be some soul-searching. My job and Gavin [Wilkinson] and Merrit [Paulson], our jobs start today. It doesn’t make the offseason easy, it makes it harder. We have to look at those things and reflect on everything, evaluate everything, and make those corrections to have a better season next year.”
On today’s loss:
“It was a tough loss. A lot of things went wrong. We gave up a very silly early goal. That goal changed the whole situation. This has been up and down for us. We’re sad that it ended like this. What can I say? The season is over for us. We just have to sit down together and figure what’s going to happen next season.”
On the outlook coming into the match:
“Obviously for us, we came here try to win. We knew it would be tough because, of course, they were not just going to come out and give us the game. We didn’t know the outcome was going to be like this. It’s a very disappointing one. It was a sad one. We just have to look forward to the next season.”
On the tough season:
“We had a lot of injuries. I think every player was out this season for at least one game because of injuries or cards or stuff like that. Our season has been really rough for us. It’s a tough one for us.”
On the key to today’s loss:
“It’s tough talking about it, to be honest. I don’t think the start was good enough. They came out, they were flying. We had a few early giveaways that were just a bit sloppy coming out of the gate. We continue to talk about that first goal and how important it is, and we let them get it. The start, first and foremost, wasn’t good enough.”
On the turning point of the match:
“All over the field, we were not good enough. You could point to a number of things, and they could probably have changed the game. I didn’t have a good angle of the [Kendall] Waston foul on Adi, so I don’t even know how that looked like to comment on it. Obviously, that chance at that point of the game, to get back to even would’ve been huge. But we had other chances to during the game in that first half even though we didn’t feel like we came out and played the way we should’ve.”
On the up-and-down season:
“The glaring one was our form on the road. That will be the big one for the group next year, it’s how you’re more consistent. The group still is confident. When you give up that first goal, especially on the road, it’s tough. That will probably be the main thing. We’ve won more games than we’ve ever had at home, which kept us in things, but the road form has to get better if we want to be in the playoffs.”