Report and Reaction: Portland punishes poor first half play as ‘Caps comeback falls just short

Report and Reaction: Portland punishes poor first half play as ‘Caps comeback falls just short

I’m not sure what music Vancouver Whitecaps were playing in their dressing room before taking the pitch in Portland for their second straight Cascadia derby, but if it was the Red Hot Chilli Peppers “Give It Away”, then that would explain much about Christian Bolanos first half performance.

Two slack bits of play from the veteran Costa Rican midfielder set up Darlington Nagbe and Darren Mattocks first half goals. It led to ‘Caps coach Carl Robinson having “words” with Bolanos at half time and he certainly came out a different player in the second half and a real difference maker.

When Bolanos was bundled over in the box, Fredy Montero pulled a goal back for Vancouver, burying the rebound after his spot kick was saved, but the Whitecaps couldn’t find the equaliser despite looking the better side for much of the second half.

You can certainly take some positives from the Whitecaps performance, but points are more important than positives when you’re at the start of a tough four game road stretch.

Carl Robinson did some more formation tinkering, this time going with three central midfielders in a 4-3-3, which looked like a 4-1-4-1 at times, and then no shape at all at others.

Portland looked the more dangerous from the start, although Vancouver were having their own forays forward and finding some room on the wings.

It was the Timbers that were to open the scoring though in the first real chance of the game after Bolanos telegraphed a needless giveaway when he should have let the ball run out for a throw in. Dairon Asprilla pounced on the loose ball, and the move eventually set up Nagbe who went round two Whitecaps players before unleashing a fierce shot from the edge of the box that flew over David Ousted’s head and in off the bar.

Portland had a couple of decent half chances before Vancouver enjoyed their best spell of possession around the half hour mark and Cristian Techera whipped in a dangerous ball in the 33rd minute, but with no takers. Fredy Montero had a header that flew over four minutes later, as the ‘Caps continued to try and get back into the match.

But the Timbers dealt what felt to be a killer blow in the 40th minute when former Whitecap Mattocks did just enough to get on the end of a Diego Valeri cross and poke home Portland’s second, in a move started by a slack giveaway from a Bolanos header just inside the Timbers half.

And the home side came close to making it three two minutes before half time when Asprilla was allowed time to get a rocket off from 20 plus yards out, but it flew over the bar.

Andrew Jacobson had a chance to pull a goal back for the ‘Caps in first half stoppage time, rising unchallenged to get on the end of a Techera cross but heading wide.

The quandary facing Robinson at the half (well we say quandary, but he said after the match he was never considering it, so only us then!) was whether to keep the three central midfielders or change to something more attacking to chase the game. It seemed he went for the wait and see how the half started.

As it turned out, pretty well.

Vancouver pushed to try and get back into things and Montero sent a great ball to the back post which Jacobson just couldn’t get on the end of.

But Montero got that crucial goal himself a minute before the hour mark.

Bolanos was bundled over (somewhat easily) in the box. Montero stepped up to grab the penalty, but Jeff Attinella pull of a big save, only to see the rebound fall to the Colombian who coolly slotted home to make it a one goal game.

The match started to open up with both sides pressing and some hard tackles flying in.

The Whitecaps made a couple of attacking subs to try and draw level and Montero nearly tied things up with a delicate chip to the back post that went just wide.

But neither side added to the scoring in the closing minutes, with the biggest concern for Portland coming with Valeri being stretchered off with ten minutes to go.

The ‘Caps will be left to rue a missed opportunity. Their play and pressure, particularly in the second half, deserved to get at least a point from the match, and were it not for some sloppy giveaways to set up the two Timbers goal, it could have been a famous result.

Instead they’re left to look at what did and what didn’t work with the new look formation, and try and regroup to see what they can get from the three tough away games left in this difficult stretch.

FINAL SCORE: Portland Timbers 2 – 1 Vancouver Whitecaps

ATT: 21,144

PORTLAND: Jeff Attinella; Alvas Powell, Lawrence Olum, Liam Ridgewell, Vytas Andriuskevicius; David Guzman, Diego Chara; Dairon Asprilla (Sebastian Blanco 77), Diego Valeri (Jack Barmby 80), Darlington Nagbe; Darren Mattocks [Substitutes not used: Kendall McIntosh, Chance Myers, Roy Miller, Amobi Okugo, Marco Farfan]

VANCOUVER: David Ousted; Sheanon Williams, Kendall Waston, Tim Parker, Jordan Harvey; Andrew Jacobson (Nicolás Mezquida 77), Matías Laba, Tony Tchani (Kyle Greig 88); Cristian Techera (Alphonso Davies 74), Fredy Montero, Christian Bolaños [Substitutes not used: Spencer Richey, Christian Dean, Russell Teibert, Mauro Rosales]





General thoughts on the match

“I think we were the better team. Just said to the guys in there, I can’t be disappointed with them because I do think they put on a very, very strong performance in a difficult environment. But we didn’t take our chances and [Portland] took two of their chances. Disappointment because we get no points, but really, really pleased with the performance.”

On defensive mistakes that contributed to Portland’s goals

“Yeah, it happens sometimes in football. If you look at every goal that you concede, there’s always a mistake. Usually by one person, two, three, four sometimes. It was a turnover, but it was a wonderful strike by the boy, Darlington [Nagbe], so you have to give him credit for that. It’s the edge of the box, sometimes they beat you. Unfortunately we didn’t help by giving the ball away before he struck it.”

On considering any changes at halftime

“No. I thought we played very well barring the two goals. If we had come in at nil-nil, I would have been disappointed, coming in at nil-nil because I think we probably had better chances than [Portland] in the first half, but we were two-nil down. Sometimes you have to accept that, but stick to what you believe. The guys took on board the tactical plan, which was great, and we got back into the game, but we didn’t get a bit of luck in the last 15-20 minutes.”

On Christian Bolanos’ performance in the second half and if Robinson spoke to him at halftime

“Yeah, I had a quiet word, which is always important. [Bolanos] is a top player. Bola can play wherever, whether I play him central or wide areas. Sometimes with wide players they’re exceptional and they have off days. I think in the first half, he had an off half and in the second half he didn’t. He was on it. What’s important is when your wide players do have an off day, then someone else steps up to the plate. Bola responded very well in the second half. Just a tactical decision based upon us wanting to match [Portland] up in the middle of the park with midfield players. I think it worked. You can say [Portland’s] the most inform team at the moment, or one of the inform teams at the moment, but we’ve come into their backyard and performed very well. I wanted Bola on the field, which is why he played on the left.”

On Andrew Jacobson’s performance

“He probably could have got two goals on another day, but he put in a very strong performance. Him and Tony [Tchani] did exactly what I asked for, barring goals. All around it was a very positive display.”

On Fredy Montero integrating into the team

“We know he’s a top player. He’s also a top person as I’ve been saying and he works hard every day, so what’s important is we create chances for him. I think he was disappointed in the first half with his header where he managed to get on the blind side of two Portland defenders. But he brings goals. Unfortunate today it wasn’t enough to get us anything, but as he gets fitter and stronger and starts understanding the team a little bit more then we’ll see more of Fredy Montero, which is always a good sign. I thought he was outstanding. I thought he held the ball up very well. I don’t think he got enough protection and I let the fourth official know. He had a bit of fun with me and said to stop swinging my arms. I did, but someone else didn’t so apparently you’re allowed to or not allowed to. He showed what a really good player he is today.”

On whether his team gets up for Canadian derby matches or Cascadia matches

“You want to play in good environments and this here is a good environment. So is Montreal, so is Toronto. We want to play in big games and the league is growing. There’s more money being spent which is great because better players are coming and I think everyone is getting the advantage of seeing better players on the field, which is good.”


General thoughts on the match

“Of course it’s always sad [to lose]. We were looking forward to getting three points here, or at least get one point, but at the end of the day we’re happy that we showed good soccer today. I think we played really well most of the game. Unfortunately we couldn’t score more than one goal, but I believe that we’re going to keep improving and this team has so much potential to give.”

On playing in front of Andrew Jacobson and Tony Tchani

“It’s a different strategy playing three midfielders. It gives more opportunity for us to hold the ball and move to the sides and giving freedom to the winger to go one-on-one with the left and right backs and I look forward for the crosses. I think we did well. We need to keep believing in the process. We’re getting better every game and that’s what matters to us.”

On his second half chip to the far post that just missed

“I missed the far post. I tried to go to the second post, but it was close. It was close and the next one is going to go in. I know that.”



On what today’s performance says about the group

“It makes a real statement to the squad that we have. I like to build my squads with a lot of depth. I thought in 2015, when we won it, one of the main reasons was because we had depth. You need it in this league and it was tested this game. [There are a] couple guys out with injuries or little niggles that they were dealing with early in the week. We had five changes in the game and that was one of the first things I said to the guys in the locker room going into the game is, I like my lineup every week and the reason is because I believe in every single one of the players that’s on this team. There’s a reason they’re in this club. We brought them in to play. We didn’t bring them in to sit. We brought them in to play. In this league with the injuries and the international call-ups, you’re going to need a squad, a full squad. That’s not eleven guys, that’s 22-plus, and you saw it today. Part of those decisions were based on getting a little bit more out of the game and part of it were decisions that were forced, suspension and injuries, but you always have to be prepared and we were. We had a great week of training and I had a good feeling about the lineup we put out.”

On midfielder Darlington Nagbe’s goal

“I thought he was a difference in the game. Obviously helped set up both goals, scored the first and kind of set up the second. Interestingly enough both of those goals came central and a big part of what we were looking to do today was create width through the wingers and outside backs but we knew also in creating width we’d find some pockets and space in front of their back four because [Vancouver defender Tim] Parker and [Vancouver defender Kendall] Waston, when you get in there they look to drop off. We wanted to at times find those gaps but you only find that when you initially create width I thought Vytas, Alvas [Powell] and [Dairon] Asprilla, in particular, made a difference in this game in creating width. Vancouver played essentially three holding mids, very similar to [Sporting KC]. When someone comes up with a blueprint to beat a team then people clone it and that’s what they did the best way to counter that is to show it doesn’t work.”

On the status of Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri’s injury

“I haven’t talked to the trainer yet but Valeri said he felt a little pinch in his hip flexor. We will see. We’ll evaluate it and I’ll let you know next week.”

On Timbers forward Darren Mattocks play

“Obviously losing [Timbers forward Fanendo] Adi is tough. He’s your top scorer and a big part of how we play but when we knew Adi was out we immediately made the decision to have Darren in. We kind of shaped somewhat our attacking plan through his type of play. Looking at getting him behind and in the channels. When you change personnel and you have different qualities that come to a team you have to adopt a game plan that plays to those strengths. I kind of liked the fact in some ways that it was a different type of matchup for Waston. Even though Adi scores goals against Vancouver, he seems to get up for that one-v-one battle. If you choke out Adi our service into him and deny that then some of our attack sputters. I think we showed now that we can make those adjustments and not be quite as predictable. If we need to get more width, Asprilla can bring that. If we want to get more penetration, Mattocks can bring that to the table.”

On if Mattocks playing his former team influenced his start in the lineup

“It didn’t play into the decision but it’s a nice bonus. The timing of these things immediately you think, ‘okay Mattocks is in, he’s playing against his former team’ and you knew he’d be up for it. You knew he’d be hungry. I think those things are nice bonuses but we don’t just start a guy in a game just because they’re playing their former team. It kind of worked out that way. We knew he’d be up for it and motivated. Again, I thought it was a great goal that he scored. He kind of faded a little bit towards the end. He had a toe injury at halftime and, with Adi out and because Jeremy Ebobisse came down with a little bit of an injury last week, we had really no depth up top other than we were thinking we could push Asprilla up there so that made it a little interesting but credit to the guys to buckle down at the end and for a guy like Mattocks to go from not playing many minutes to 90 minutes and putting a real shift in. I thought [Sebastian] Blanco and [Jack] Barmby coming into the game, [they] really worked hard for the team and dug in and gave the game what it needed to get the result.”

On having Timbers defender Liam Ridgewell’s return to the pitch

“I thought he was excellent. I thought we really needed him, at the end of the game especially when you have to buckle down and we’re under some pressure. It’s great to have your skipper in there, a guy that can lead the line, motivate the group and make sure everybody’s up for it. He’s used to making those type of plays, too  If the margin is one late in the game you need your defenders to make plays because there is always going to be a push. There’s always going to be balls dumped in, there’s going to be a few set pieces and to have someone of his experience and quality and mental toughness in those situations I thought was a real help in us grinding and getting the result. When you look at last week versus this week, number one was to show we can win this type of game and we did and we did it with five changes. I think it’ll continue to build the spirit in the team because when you have more and more guys contribute to the season they stay locked in, it keeps training meaningful, guys continue to fight for spots. It makes my job tougher because I have to pick guys but I’d much rather have that problem, knowing I have a lot of good guys that can go in and get the job done.”

On if he’s concerned with not finishing off teams

“Of course, as a coach you want it to happen and you look for it. We need to make sure that we stay focused and don’t have those lulls. We had a few in the game. I felt one in the first half when we scored the first goal, we had a little lull and then we recovered and scored the next goal. I thought we had a little lull to start the second half and then we recovered and some of our best play, I thought, was at 2-1 when Darlington started rotating in and getting on the ball. While you don’t want a lull in a game and you want to keep your foot on their throat the entire 90 minutes, what you want is you want to see positive responses. When we conceded to go 2-1 a lot of teams crumble and so for me that shows our mental toughness. It also shows that we shouldn’t have a lull. Whereas some teams, they don’t have that ability to kind of control games like we have. They don’t have that mental toughness or a dominant personality quite as much. We do. I would say our lulls come through casualness more than they come through lack of quality so we have to look at that but in saying that, we can nitpick every game. But that’s definitely something we have to look at.”

On the status of Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson and forward Sebastian Blanco

“Jake had a little bit of a hip flexor that he came up with Wednesday when he was kicking in training so definitely was going to be out this game. They’re saying a week and a half, two weeks, so we’ll see for next week. [It] probably will be tight. Blanco missed the first two days of training, was back in Thursday and we decided on Asprilla because of a couple reasons. We had prepped all week with a group and Blanco being out he’s missing some of the main sessions where we’re stressing and emphasizing certain things. We just felt that on the Wednesday he wasn’t in it was 11-v-11 and the group that played tonight was in that training. It looked good, it felt good and Asprilla probably had one of his best trainings I’ve ever seen out of him on that day. We just wanted to be fair to the process.  But I think with Blanco managing an injury, not being in training the first part of the week, we prepared without him. Ultimately at the end we went with Asprilla because he was in the majority of the week.”

On what the biggest difference from last week to this week

“I think a big part of it is personnel selections in terms of if you’re trying to get different things out of a game, yes you can train it and things will change but the easiest and quickest way to bring those things out is to get guys in who can bring that to the table. So that was a part of it. I thought a big part of it was we stressed, we looked at the film, we looked at where we needed to be better. We stressed those things all week, we trained those things all week and they showed up in the game. Again, I’m not going to give you what those things are because I’m sure this beat-Portland blueprint is going to be thrown out there again at some point.”


On getting back into the starting lineup following a spell on the sidelines due to injury

“It felt good. I missed it. Five weeks is a long time to be out with an injury, so it was nice to be back out there and get back to winning ways.”

On acclimating back into the starting XI

“No challenges. It’s just a normal game of football. I just wanted to get out there and get going really. Vancouver had a good couple of wins, and it was always going to be a tough game. I felt the team did very well and we ground out a result in the end.”

On dealing with Vancouver Whitecaps FC forward Fredy Montero

“He’s a good center forward. He’s a very good player, has good movement and you’ve got to keep your wits about you. I’m glad that Lawrence [Olum and I] kept him quiet the majority [of the match]. He obviously got the penalty, but I felt we dealt with him quite well and it was good to be back out there against quality center forwards.”


On getting the win today

“It’s huge. That’s what makes these home games so special. We want to perform and we want to win these games at home. Family is here. The fans are here supporting us. Especially after the last result, to come home and get the win feels good.”

On scoring his second goal of the season

“I’m just trying to make a play. At the time, it called for me to take the shot and I hit it pretty nice and luckily it went in.”


On playing with Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri

“These two guys are amazing. They’re fantastic, and that showed in my goal. I made a great run across the box to create space. Nagbe found Valeri before and it’s teamwork.”

On the bench contributing to the win with some starters out

“Depth. It goes to show that the guys who haven’t been playing as much are patiently waiting for their chance to take it. The five guys who stepped in today definitely showed that. It’s a long season. We’re going to need depth on this team, and it showed today.”


On the importance of getting a win following last week’s result

“Every game is different. [Sporting Kansas City] is a great team. They make it tough. This game was important for us because it’s a rivalry game at home and we needed three points. I think we played really well. It was a fair result in the end.”

On Darlington Nagbe’s goal

“It was amazing. I was there looking at him and I couldn’t believe it, to be honest. He was almost falling down, so I don’t know how he kicked the ball. That’s Darlington, right? He can do something from nothing.”

On Darren Mattocks’ goal that he assisted on

“It was really good. We want him there running diagonals in the box. Every time we are building, we want him in the box and I’m very happy about his good run. It was a very good play from David [Guzmán], Diego [Chara] and Darlington. It was a great goal.”

Authored by: Michael McColl

There is 1 comment for this article
  1. Angus Walker at 00:17

    “You can say [Portland’s] the most inform team at the moment”
    How does 1-2-1 in prior 4 matches make them more in form than our 2-2-0?

    “I think we were the better team”
    1-nil to a wonder goal maybe, 2-0 after 40 mins, I think not. Maybe the second half we were the better team and I have a theory:
    Do you think that, because we set ourselves out as the inferior team with a switch to a more defensive formation Robbo psychologically influenced the first half loss. A kick up the arse to Bola at half time and getting a goal back changed the game dramatically and yes, we could have equalised or even won. Surely just trying to keep the ball rolling (no pun intended) and continue the attacking formation we had against Seattle and LA would instil a more positive attitude in the players from the start.

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