If home is where the heart is, then Portland Timbers beating Vancouver Whitecaps at Providence Park on Sunday evening felt heartless, with the transplanted ‘Caps midfield bypassed for much of the match.
The “ghost” game, that saw Vancouver hosting Portland in their own stadium due to Covid border restrictions, was anything but a match of home comforts for the Whitecaps as they went down to a 1-0 defeat thanks to an early Felipe Mora goal.
A loss narrow in terms of the final scoreline, but much larger in the gulf in class and threat from the two teams.
What everyone connected to the Whitecaps wanted to see in this one was some kind of positive response to the midweek shellacking in LA. Some major signs of improvement. Some indication that the LAFC result was more an anomaly rather than what we could expect to be the norm as the season runs down.
To try and get there, Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos made five personnel changes with Érik Godoy and Andy Rose replacing Ranko Veselinović and Derek Cornelius as the centre back pairing, Leonard Owusu coming in for Michael Baldisimo in the central midfield role, Ali Adnan taking his place on the wing for Theo Bair, and Fredy Montero in for David Milinković up top, starting a match with Lucas Cavallini for the first time.
Despite all of that it only took five minutes for the Whitecaps to fall behind.
And once again it was down to terrible defensive marking at a set piece, with Mora easily shaking off any Whitecaps attention to meet a floated Eryk Williamson free kick, powerfully heading home past Brian Meredith at his near post, which the ‘Caps keeper should have done better with.
— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) September 28, 2020
The ‘Caps almost got an immediate response when Rose got his head on an outswinging Cristian Gutierrez free kick, but his effort crashed off the left post with Timbers keeper Steve Clark beaten.
The action settled down, as the physicality rose, with a long range Williamson effort saved by Meredith and a flashing Cavallini header the closest either team came to adding to the scoreline, without really threatening to do so.
The best Whitecaps attack of the match came in the 38th minute, when Rose stayed up the pitch as Vancouver kept the pressure on following a failed free kick. His cross was tipped away by Clark into the path of Montero, but the striker’s effort was superbly blocked by Dario Zuparic.
Montero came even closer two minutes later when Clark produced a point blank save to deny a diving header from six yards out, although the Colombian did look to be offside when he got on the end of a fantastic Adnan ball in.
Promising signs for a potential Whitecaps fight back in the second half and they really should have tied things up in the 52nd minute when Cristian Dajome whipped in a delicious ball for Cavallini, but the ‘Caps DP guided his diving header past the post when he had to hit the target.
But any such signs soon disappeared, with the game becoming very pedestrian and at times it felt like it was being played at walking pace, which certainly suited Portland far more than Vancouver.
The Whitecaps were enjoying possession but the Timbers were more than happy to let them have it as they weren’t doing anything of danger with it all.
Although not showing much themselves, it was Portland who felt the most likely to score and they had a couple of half chances in the closing minutes that kept Meredith busy in the ‘Caps goal, with a stoppage time save from Diego Valeri the standout.
It was a very comfortable win for Portland in the end, who looked like they could take it up a level at any given time if they had to. The problem was they didn’t have to. Vancouver had three or four really good chances which they could and should have scored. Game changing moments.
At the same time, the Whitecaps didn’t really feel under too much pressure at the back, with the Timbers not really getting out of second gear and only really threatening to add to their tally when Vancouver pushed for the equaliser late on.
The result leaves Vancouver 10th in the Western Conference standings, just three points off the playoff places, yet feeling like it’s a lot more. They’re also just one point off the bottom.
When you look around MLS, and watch highlights of other matches this weekend, you see how far behind the Whitecaps look in all aspects of their play. It’s alarming and we’ve said it many times before, but it feels like they play in a different league. In many ways they do.
The Whitecaps at least get a little break now, able to head home to see loved ones for a couple of days before getting back in the saddle in another Cascadian derby in Seattle on Saturday.
I think it’s a break that everyone of a blue and white persuasion badly needs right now.
FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 0 – 1 Portland Timbers
VANCOUVER: Bryan Meredith; Jake Nerwinski (Tosaint Ricketts 90+1), Érik Godoy, Andy Rose, Cristián Gutiérrez (David Milinković 64); Cristian Dájome (Ryan Raposo 90+2), Janio Bikel, Leonard Owusu, Ali Adnan; Fredy Montero, Lucas Cavallini [Substitutes Not Used: Isaac Boehmer, Ranko Veselinović, Derek Cornelius, Theo Bair, Patrick Metcalfe, Michael Baldisimo]
PORTLAND: Steve Clark; Pablo Bonilla, Larrys Mabiala, Dario Zuparic, Marco Farfan; Marvin Loria (Yimmi Chara 57), Diego Chara, Eryk Williamson (Diego Valeri 46), Andy Polo; Cristhian Paredes (Jeremy Ebobisse 77), Felipe Mora (Jaroslaw Niezgoda 77) [Substitutes Not Used: Aljaz Ivacic, Jorge Villafana, Julio Cascante, Zac McGraw, Renzo Zambrano]
Possession: VAN 53.2% – POR 46.8%
Shots: VAN 8 – POR 12
Shots on Goal: VAN 3 – POR 7
Saves: VAN 6 – POR 3
Fouls: VAN 16 – POR 16
Offsides: VAN 1 – POR 0
Corners: VAN 5 – POR 5
MARC DOS SANTOS
On tonight’s result:
“It’s disappointing to start the game with that goal conceded on the free kick. I thought it could have been better defender by all of us. Unfortunately it went in, but then I think in the moments following that the team reacted well. Andy in the free kick heads it to the post, Fredy also has a very good chance that Clark makes the save. In the second half, the only time Portland was dangerous was in counter attack situations where we took a lot of risks, but there’s another big chance from Cava in the second post that could have been a goal. It was a tight game, unfortunately, I think that, is it a step up from what we did in LA? Much more, yes, absolutely, there was a lot of good things. Is it the result we want? No, of course not.”
On the Timbers goal:
“It’s the first time in months that we conceded a goal in a lateral free kick. The two in LA were corner kicks, so it’s a different phase of the game. It’s the first time, I don’t remember us conceding a goal in a wide free kick. It was the first time so of course we changed a piece that we put in front of the zone, we switched it. But I just think, we have to be better in that header and I think it’s a soft goal in my opinion.”
On missed chances:
“We were in the final turn, we pushed, we had numbers but just the last pass, the decision making. We weren’t able to create clear-cut chances but then the only thing we had to deal with is making sure that we’re aware of transition and counter attack because that’s the same way they hurt Seattle. And we had to be aware of that. Bryan makes a big save at the end to keep us still in the game. There’s a number of plays that were in the last third and that last pass that the cross just didn’t get there, but I still think that we have four big chances in the 90 minutes and one of those has to get in. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Those chances are big and it’s not easy. You don’t come to Portland and generate 20 chances. Nobody does that in the league, it’s hard. They’re a team that defends lower, they’re a team that is a transition team so they don’t give a lot of chances. These four chances are big chances, and one had to get in and unfortunately it didn’t.”
On possible fatigue:
“I don’t think we were tired. I’m sorry, I think our energy was good and the guys felt good. I don’t think Portland showed more energy than us. So, no, tiredness didn’t play (a factor) in this game.”
On Cristian Gutierrez’ injury:
“I don’t know, it’s something with his bone on his foot. We don’t know yet. I didn’t see Guti yet, I didn’t see the medical staff yet.”
On reported Evan Bush trade:
“It’s correct. It’s only details. We can’t play with fire only having two goalkeepers right now, because there’s big chances and it’s very, very difficult that we will see Thomas and Max this season again so it’s difficult. The chances are extremely slim so we can’t be playing with fire. That’s all.”
On tonight’s loss:
“Result wise, it was disappointing. We really wanted to come out of here with three points and bounce back from the last game. But unfortunately, it wasn’t the case today. Positive thoughts, I thought we dominated the game really well. We were sleeping in the first few minutes of the game and that’s what cost us the only goal of the game. We have to be better.”
On missed chances:
“Of course, it is frustrating. There are chances that sometimes you know you regret missing, but it is what it is now. Today’s game is done. We got to take it and start getting better, because in a few days and on Saturday we play again so we have to be ready for whatever and there’s no time to feel sorry and feel bad and put our heads down. Especially myself I have to be better and stay positive.”
On the busy schedule:
“To play every four days, for me, it’s great, like there’s nothing better than playing football every few days. We barely train, we just play games. Everybody has to be the most professional that they can. We have to take care of ourselves, take care of our bodies, and be ready for each game.”
Thoughts on the match:
“Barring their one goal I think that we actually played pretty well. I think we out possessed them, and that was something that we haven’t done in a while. I thought we created a lot of really good chances. It just didn’t go in for us tonight. And I think that we did deserve better than a 1-0 loss.”
On frustrations of not getting a result with their performance:
“It’s very frustrating because like I said, I think we all had a very good performance, individually and as a team. So you know that’s sometimes how soccer goes, you play well and you still lose 1-0. But it’s something that we definitely can build off of going forward. I think that we were a lot more aggressive tonight. We didn’t let them breathe as much as we allowed other teams to come down our throat sometimes, which was really good. And you know we created a lot of chances. So it is something to build off of. It’s very disappointing that we didn’t get points tonight, but we have to regroup and go into the next game.”
On defensive improvement:
“We had a lot of meetings going into this game, defensive meetings just talking about our shape and how we wanted to be more aggressive and how we needed to be tighter. And I think that we did that really well tonight. We all had each other’s backs, I knew when I was going out to pressure, I knew Erik [Godoy] was going to be right behind me just in case the ball got by me. So I felt comfortable, going out and being very aggressive. So I think that was something that we definitely can build off of.”
On the team’s response to going down early compared to the LAFC match:
“I think that just shows the growth that we have in this team. We could have easily fallen apart again, and given up a bunch of goals early on and kind of conceded right away. But we didn’t, we regrouped quick and I think that is attributed by the veterans that we had on the field, Andy Rose coming in, Erik Godoy, they have a lot of games played between them. It was very good to have them there to calm us down, to show leadership. And I think that was a was a good key factor. We didn’t fold easy.”
On if he believes they have the talent to make the playoffs:
“Yeah of course I do. The West is so tight. We were in a playoff spot two games ago and now we’re at the bottom. Anything can change at any moment, we go on a run, we win a few games, we’ll be right back. And I have no doubt in my mind that we can do that.”
On what Erik Godoy brings at centre back:
“He brings experience, he brings leadership, and he’s very aggressive. I think that you can easily see that he doesn’t give an inch to anybody. That is something that we definitely need, because as I said before you know sometimes we get caught backing up into our own box, and that doesn’t happen when Erik’s on the field. I feel more comfortable playing with him because I know that he’s got my back, I know that he’s going to be aggressive. So that’s something good that we had today.”
General thoughts on the match…
“It was very important to continue the same path of winning these matches. Three points that were necessary for us and we had two different halves. That first half in which we were very, very good. We pressured [Vancouver] high. We didn’t let them play much. Yes, they did find one or two moments in the first half, but we pretty much dictated the tempo and kept the ball very well the first half. Second half we suffered a little bit more. They had a few opportunities. We also had opportunities. The team dropped a little bit back and we defended well most of the time. The effort’s been very good from the guys and at the end we could have been a little bit better to finish those opportunities on the counters because that’s what it became in the second half. But overall, I think another good performance, a very important win and again, zero in our goal which is the effort of the entire team to make sure that we continue this path. Overall a very important win for us and three points that continue to make us stay on the same path.”
On securing a second-straight clean sheet…
“It allows you to build confidence. It allows you to make sure that you feel that you’re working in the right direction. It’s an example that when you all are in tune with each other and work together you can achieve the goal that you’re looking for in regard to not allowing goals against. Nevertheless, it wasn’t perfect. There were opportunities that [Vancouver] had. I think some moments, some of our players came up big in order to make sure that we kept the clean sheet and that’s what you need. In those moments, some moments that you give up the space, is when players are important to help and commit with determination. Get to those areas not to allow them to be able to get the final moment to score. I think we saw many of those moments in the second half. Not so much in the first half. Overall, a strong performance, good work as a unit and a very important win.”
On having a longer period of training and recovery ahead of next Saturday’s match…
“Definitely. So as you mentioned, finally we have a week that is a normal week in which we can work. We can be able to recoup some of the players to make sure that we also are able to hope that some of the players that are injured can catch up as well and get everybody back to their best form in order to then decide the lineup for next weekend. I think the important part is that through these matches that we have had consecutive, we had to rotate. We had to put some players in, and everybody did a great job. All the players were able to bring what we needed on the field in order to get the points we have gotten and the results that we were able to achieve. It’s perfect when you have a group entirely, and a roster that everybody is ready to step on the field and put in performances like we saw again today. So the rotations have been great and now we have the chance this week to make sure that we have a normal week to recoup everybody and then be able to think about what is coming next.”
On the standard he has for the team…
“Our standard, our desire is to always improve, is always to be a strong team and to make sure that we grow and evolve in so many areas to always be a better team. But that doesn’t take away the fact the guys did a tremendous job today. That they all worked together. They’ve been doing that for the past few games. We defended with everything that we had. We attacked with quality in the first half, with counters in the second. We’re very content with the result. But we have high standards. We want to continue to improve. We want to continue to be better. If we were very good with the ball, we can always be a little bit better but we cannot take away the fact that the guys did a fantastic job to get a very, very deserved win today.”
On if it felt strange to be the away team in Providence Park…
“I will say that there were some things that felt very strange. Seeing the blue color all around the walls and [Vancouver’s] commercials and [Vancouver’s] sponsors definitely gave you a strange sensation. But we know Providence Park, and this is our home and the opportunity to play here is always good. We had to focus on what we needed to focus inside the field and that’s what we did. After, we were able to get a very important win. But definitely felt a little strange at the beginning when we were arriving to the stadium, seeing so many different things inside Providence Park.”
On if he will continue wearing a particular pocket square for good luck…
“I couldn’t hear completely, but I heard something about ‘lucky for Saturday.’ Every luck that can come our way is a good thing, so hopefully it keeps on coming, but I’m not a 100% believer of luck. I think you earn your luck in some way by putting the work and keeping positive and creating a good environment. I think the guys have been fantastic in enduring, in working hard, in going through so many difficulties. Staying disciplined and making sure that when we have to show up in practices, they do everything to take care of themselves. I’m extremely proud of the locker room and the players that we have. So I think the guys are earning their own luck.”
FELIPE MORA (through a translator)
On if he feels there’s another level for the team to reach…
“I think every match is different. There are matches like today, which are very difficult. We always have things that we need to improve and things that are going to make us a better team. So we will definitely review this match and we will listen to what the coaching staff has to say and we’ll make those improvements.”
On his understanding of the MLS and his role in the team since the season restarted…
“I believe as the games go by, I gain more knowledge about the league. It’s been a very difficult year and everything that the league has done has helped me to adapt and I think my teammates, for the most part, they’ve been fundamental for me to adapt a lot better and for me to score these goals. So I really hope that I can continue achieving these things.”
On the team’s formation and shape…
“We have a lot of games right now… as you can see, the team has improved a lot and we have a very challenging team. We have a lot of players that can play in a variety of positions and they are all very competitive so we hope to continue this trend.”
On his role whenever he starts the match or in the reserves…
“I feel a lot better right now. I think that coach [Giovanni Savarese] gives me the trust I need. He’s a coach that talks to you throughout the week and that’s fundamental. It’s a coach that is very close to his players and that makes everything easier for you to play better and to score more goals.”
On what was needed from the team tonight for the win…
“I think to get those three points we needed to stay focused the whole game. What I get from this game is that we had a very good start, we had the possession of the ball. We had some phases where we could unbalance them and create not really some clear chances, but really unbalance them and with a better run or better pass around the box, it would be more efficient. But then towards the end of the first half and the whole second half was more defending, staying focused and trying to close the spaces as much as possible. When you spend that much time in front of your own goal you really have to be focused the whole game.”
On the team staying consistent defensively over the past few matches…
“We know that we… we can even do much better than what we did tonight. When we come on the field, we are trying to have the best performance possibly and especially defensively because we know that with the quality we have in front, we’re going to create chances. Just putting in our minds that we are not going to allow goals against us will put us in a better position to win games. So that’s what we really focused on for the last two games that we played, and I think everyone just put a very pride into trying to defend well and not allow anything against us. I know it’s very good for the future going forward and I hope we’re going to keep this same mentality. I really believe that we can even be better… with the ball to suffer a little bit less behind.”
On playing tonight at home but as the designated road team…
“We are professional football players so we have to adapt to any situation. Of course, it’s very weird for us but at the same time, crazy things are happening around the world right now. It’s even harder to stay focused and perform the best way but since as I said, we are professional football players and we still have the chance to keep our job and to come out here to compete, to have fun together and just to bring some competition and bring something where people can just think about something else instead of always thinking about the problems that they can have in their daily life. I think it’s something that we have to just adapt and take seriously because as I said, we still have the chance to have this job that we love and give some joy to some people who love this game too.”