Vancouver Whitecaps Reach Championship Final

Match Report: Portland Timbers v Vancouver Whitecaps (USL)

Vancouver Whitecaps reached the 2009 USL1 Championship final yesterday in one of the best games of football I’ve seen in my life.

Their quest for back to back Championship continues after a battling performance at PGE Park against the Portland Timbers, which saw the match end 3-3 on the day and the Caps progress 5-4 on aggregate.

For anyone doubting the passion and quality of football in North America, this game was the perfect response. Pulsating is an overused term for matches, but is so apt on this occasion and 14,283 fans in attendance saw an absolute cracker.

Vancouver went down to Portland with a narrow 2-1 lead from Thursday’s first leg. With Portland topping the regular season standings, and PGE Park being like a fortress for them this season, the first goal was always going to be crucial and thankfully it fell to Vancouver after only 4 minutes.

Jay Nolly threw the ball quickly out to Ansu Toure, who collected the ball midway in the Caps half, ran up the left wing and twisted Portland’s Johan Claesson inside and out before whipping over an inch perfect cross to Marcus Haber in the box. Haber rose unchallenged to head home powerfully from 10 yards out to give Vancouver a two goal advantage in the tie and a bit of breathing space.

That breathing space lasted a total of six minutes before Portland hit back and levelled the match on the day through Brian Farber, who collected the ball at the back post and hit home from six yards out.

Portland sensed blood and came close a couple of time with the Caps defence all over the place and really struggling with the long balls over the top.

Vancouver regained their composure though and nearly retook the lead through Toure, but his fierce strike crashed back off the bar.

It was end to end stuff with both sides having chances and Vancouver had Jay Nolly to thank for saving them from going behind.

There was nothing he could do with two minutes of the half remaining though when a deflection fell favourably to Farber to head home and level the tie on aggregate.

With the way the Caps back line had been playing, I personally feared the worst, but Portland failed to come out all guns blazing and it allowed Vancouver to regroup and settle back into winning the match.

The hour mark approached and the decisive moment came. Marcus Haber went down quite cheaply to earn a free kick on the edge of the box. Up stepped Captain Marvel, Martin Nash, and he drilled a beauty into the postage stamp corner to put Vancouver back ahead in the tie and send the travelling army of Whitecaps supporters into raptures.

The goal took the wind out of the Timbers sails and put Vancouver into the ascendancy, as they pushed to kill the game off.

They nearly did just that on 71 minutes from another free kick, but Takashi Hirano was unlucky to see his fine effort cannon off the post and cleared for a corner.

Vancouver weren’t to be denied though and went back ahead on the day, and increase their aggregate lead to two, second later when Marlon James bundled the ball home after a goalmouth scramble.

Full credit to Portland though. They didn’t go on a 24 game unbeaten run earlier this season without being able to play football and they fought right to the end. Alex Nimo’s spectacular strike with seven minutes left made for squeakiy bum time for the travelling Caps fans and despite some close calls and desperate defending, Vancouver held on for the fine victory and the chance to record back to back Championships.

It was nervy at the back at times and some usually solid players had a shocker, especially in the first half.

The win sets up the dream final against the French surrender monkeys from Montreal. For Vancouver and their fans, it’s payback time for their capitulation in June against Toronto that cost the Whitecaps a Champions League place.

Nothing would be sweeter than to hit six past them ourselves.

C’mon the Caps and roll on the first leg on Saturday.

FINAL SCORE: Portland Timbers 3 – 3 Vancouver Whitecaps 3 (Vancouver go through 5-4 on aggregate)

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