In one of the most important games of the season, the Vancouver Whitecaps suffered one of their worst Major League Soccer losses.
The Portland Timbers took advantage of several Vancouver defensive blunders to rout the Whitecaps 3-0 Saturday night and leap-frog over Vancouver into the final playoff spot in the tight Western Conference.
It was Vancouver’s worst home loss since a 4-0 defeat at the hands of the L.A. Galaxy back on July 30, 2011. Of even more concern, it was the third consecutive game the Whitecaps have been held scoreless and the fourth time in the last five matches they couldn’t manage a goal.
“We were chasing shadows at the end,” said Whitecaps’ coach Carl Robinson.
“It’s never nice to lose any game, whether you lose 1-0 or 3-0. They were better than us today. If you go through their players and go through our players, their players come out on top in most of the individual battles.”
Kendall Watson, the Costa Rican centre back recently signed by the Whitecaps, could only shake his head after playing his first game in Vancouver.
“You have bad days and this was our bad day,” said Watson. “Football is making goals. They scored.”
Timbers head coach Caleb Porter called the victory a statement game for his club.
“I think it was an important one to get confidence from,” he said. “We had some great performances out of some guys who haven’t played quite as much. Alvas Powell, Jorge Villafana and Kah were tremendous.”
Porter also lauded the play of Rodney Wallace.
“It’s the first game I can honestly say he’s back, 100 per cent. He showed what he’s capable of doing in terms of goal production.”
Powell, Maximiliano Urruti and Wallace scored second half goals for the Timbers.
Porter said there was never any thought of sitting back as they ran up the score against the Whitecaps.
“That’s just not who I am. I’m not going to put a team out that sits back. Obviously we were smart with how we managed our lines.”
Villafana agreed with Porter’s assessment of the game as a confidence builder.
“I think we dominated them on both sides of the ball, attacking and defending, in the second half, and this win gives us confidence going into the next games.”
Portland moves into fifth place in the West with 34 points, one more than the Whitecaps, from an 8-8-10 record.
Vancouver slips to sixth with 33 points (7-6-12).
All week the Whitecaps talked about the importance of the match and the chance to put some distance between themselves and Portland. Robinson admitted his team may have been overwhelmed by the moment.
“Maybe,” he said. “It was a massive game for us and we lost.
“We take it on the chin and move on.”
The Whitecaps have just two wins in their last 11 games (2-4-5). During that span they have managed just eight goals.
“It’s something we have to look at . . . and find the solution,” said Robinson. “You’re not going to win games if you keep conceding goals.”
A Whitecaps’ defensive breakdown allowed Powell to give Portland the lead in the 51st minute off a pretty pass from Diego Valeri.
The Argentine midfielder threaded a ball into the box where an unmarked Powell headed it past the outstretched hands of Whitecaps’ goalkeeper David Ousted.
It was Powell’s first goal of the season while Valeri picked up his team-leading ninth assist.
Urruti, a second-half substitute, delivered the dagger in the 75th minute. The big forward had all the time in the world to take a pass from Michael Harrington and blast a shot that hit the crossbar and fell into the net behind Ousted. The Whitecaps’ goalkeeper scrambled to his feet and began yelling at his defence.
Wallace made it 3-0 in the 79th minute after slipping behind the Whitecaps’ defence and converting a pass from Darlington Nagbe.
Watson said the team must study the video to understand what the defence was doing wrong.
“It’s easy now to point at the wrong things about the goals,” he said. “We are not calm.
“It’s better to watch the video and see what we did wrong. Hopefully we can get better.”
The close Western Conference playoff battle helped produce a great atmosphere at BC Place Stadium for the match between the Cascadia rivals. Among the noisy, sellout crowd of 21,000 was a contingent of 500 Portland fans who made their presence known by chanting and waving flags.
The teams were scoreless after the first half.
Vancouver controlled much of the play, moving the ball with authority. A solid Timbers defence forced the Whitecaps to take their shots from the perimeter which allowed Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts to track the ball.
One of the Whitecaps best scoring chances came in the fifth minute. Newcomer Mauro Rosales sent a pretty crossing pass into the box which charging midfielder Pedro Morales headed over the crossbar.
Darren Mattocks, a second-half substitute, came close to tying the match in the 66th minute. Midfielder Russell Teibert feathered a pass behind the Portland defence. An open Mattocks had trouble controlling the ball then fired a shot that Ricketts stopped.
Despite the loss, Robinson remains confident his team can regroup in the remaining nine games and make the playoffs for the second time in three years.
“There are going to be more games and we need to win more must-win games,” said the first-year head coach.
“We are disappointed today. We were beaten by a better team. We move on.”
NOTES: The Whitecaps play in Portland Sept. 20. Marie Hui, the Burnaby, B.C. native who sings the national anthems at Whitecaps games, has been booked to sing the anthems at the Seattle Seahawks’ Sept. 21 NFL game against Denver. Vancouver played without centre back Johnny Leveron, who was given a red card in a 2-0 loss to L.A. last weekend.