Vancouver and Portland served up a fiery friendly on Sunday night in their first game of the 2015 version of the Timbers annual preseason tournament. Two sending offs, eight bookings and 43 fouls later, a first half Pa Modou Kah header was what separated the teams on the scoresheet, as the Whitecaps kicked off their defence of the tournament with a 1-0 win.
The Whitecaps went for a strong starting line up, and one that wouldn't look too much out of place against Toronto for First Kick, and their performance did their cause a lot of favours.
Portland certainly started the livelier and looked the more dangerous side, but Vancouver had a few forays forward of their own.
The Timbers had a good chance in the 16th minute when the ball broke to Alvas Powell just inside the box but the Jamaican blasted wildly over. A minute later he had a similar opportunity but with the same end result.
Vancouver were coming more into the game and looking dangerous up both wings.
They were also looking physical with both Kendall Waston and Pa Modou Kah putting in some crunching tackles.
Portland's midfield has already been hit hard with injuries to Diego Valeri and Will Johnson, and they suffered another blow in the 26th minute when Ben Zemanski was stretchered after going to ground away from the action.
Kekuta Manneh was getting the better of Powell on the left side of the pitch and he got past his man once again before whipping in a dangerous ball to the back post but there were no takers.
The Whitecaps got the breakthrough their play deserved in the 31st minute when Kah rose unchallenged against his former team and powered home a perfect Mauro Rosales cross
Neither side were able to carve out any real chances for the remainder of the half and the 'Caps headed in happy with a one goal advantage.
The second half continued in a high pace and with some feisty tackles flying in from both sides. Clear cut chances were at a premium however, with the best of them falling to Vancouver.
Manneh continued his good work from the first half and drove over the bar six minutes in, then came close again as the hour mark approached when he got on an excellent ball from Pedro Morales.
The game had shown signs of boiling over and so it came to pass in the 60th minute when Rodney Wallace picked up a second yellow for kicking out at Waston.
With Portland reduced to ten men, Vancouver tried to turn the screw, with the best chance falling to substitute Erik Hurtado in the 70th minute.
The Whitecaps were controlling the game fairly easily but David Ousted had to act quickly to parry a fierce Dairon Asprilla rocket in the 86th minute.
As the minutes ticked down there was still time for some sparks to fly.
Nicolas Mezquida went flying into a challenge on Diego Chara with two minutes left on the clock. The Colombian went as if he'd been shot and rolled around like he was trying to put out a fire. Mezquida picked up a yellow for the challenge and so did Portland's captain Liam Ridgewell for mouthing off at the ref.
In the confusion, the fourth official pointed out to the referee that that was Ridgewell's second booking and Portland were down to nine men for the remaining few minutes.
As Vancouver took the ball to the corner flag, Maxi Urruti chopped down Manneh at the corner flag. The young Gambian was incensed at the needless challenge way after the final whistle and had to be calmed down by Kah.
So a great win, in what was a fantastic game of football. May not have been pretty at times, but it's games like this, with the fight, passion and intensity, that will help grow the game in North America. Just wait till the real action starts.
FINAL SCORE: Portland Timbers 0 Vancouver Whitecaps 1
PORTLAND: Adam Kwarasey; Alvas Powell, Nat Borchers, Liam Ridgewell, Jorge Villafana; Darlington Nagbe, Diego Chara, Ben Zemanski (Jack Jewsbury 25), Rodney Wallace; Gaston Fernandez (Dairon Asprilla 64), Fanendo Adi (Maximiliano Urruti 72) [subs Not Used: Andrew Weber, Norberto Paparatto, Jeanderson, Danny O'Rourke, Nick Besler, George Fochive, Michael Nanchoff, Schillo Tshuma]
VANCOUVER: David Ousted; Steven Beitashour, Pa Modou Kah (Diego Rodriguez 66), Kendall Waston, Jordan Harvey; Matias Laba (Gershon Koffie 76), Russell Teibert, Mauro Rosales (Erik Hurtado 58), Pedro Morales (Nicolas Mezquida 76), Kekuta Manneh; Octavio Rivero (Darren Mattocks 76) [subs Not Used: Paolo Tornaghi, Sam Adekugbe, Christian Dean, Ethen Sampson, Robert Earnshaw, Marco Bustos]
On the game and what this means for the actual league meetings between the teams:
"It's hard to tell, but a good game of football today, I have to say, by two good teams. These games are never going to be easy. These games are never going to be friendlies and it showed today. Obviously there were one or two sending offs in the game but then from our perspective we scored and obviously won the game, but more importantly we played pretty well when we had the ball."
On being in control of the game in the second half:
"The only disappointing thing I have is that we didn't manage to get the second goal because I think we deserved it and warranted it with our play. Unfortunately it didn't come and that's stuff we've got to work on."
Play of Kekuta Manneh and how different he looks from last season:
"He's been excellent. A very mature performance from the young boy today especially. He's come back in preseason in the right frame of mind. He's come back with the bit between his teeth. He's fit, and you see today, when he's fit, he's happy, and he performs like that. My job is to try and keep him like that for 34 games this season."
On what Manneh needs to do to play well but also hit the back of the net:
"There will be performances this year where he doesn't play as well as he did tonight and he'll score two goals and I'm sure everyone will say that he's this and he's that. But when he plays like that, that's all I want him to do. Because when he plays like that he'll score goals and there's no reason why he can't get a number of goals this year. Confidencewise, he's playing with confidence. And he's fit and he's happy. If you've got your players happy, then they'll perform to the levels that they should do. My job is to do that."
Was that the Kah hat-trick - card, goal, calming Kekuta?!
"That's perfect. We'll have some fun this year, won't we?! We'll certainly have some fun."
On the card danger of Kah and Waston playing together:
"It will. I thought there were areas for improvement, as there were with all units of the team. They're strong. A very strong pair. And Diego coming on as well. That was a decision because I didn't want to lose Kah because I thought the referee was a little card-happy maybe, sending people off. I didn't want him evening things up, so it was a decision I made. But they will get booked this year. There's no doubt about it, because we've got good attacking players in this league and good attackers manage to deceive defenders sometimes. It's important I carry five [central] defenders and I've certainly got five good ones."
What did he learn about his group from the game?
"That we're tough. That physically we were able to deal with a tough match away from home. Every match is going to be like this away from home. We've got to be able to fight and dig and scrap and run, but play our football at the right times and I think we did that, especially going in at half time 1-0 up. It was a much of a muchness kind of game, there wasn't much in it. We managed to get a great goal from a super ball from Mauro and Pa's header. The second half, I thought we were excellent. I really did. The change in numbers changed the dynamic of the game slightly but the performance was thoroughly professional."
On Nico standing up to bigger players:
"Imagine if he was Kendall's size what he'd do! He's brilliant. He has a heart of gold. You want guys like that in your team and we've certainly got a good group in there."
On Rivero and the other new Caps getting a taste of the Cascadia atmosphere:
"It's important for all the new guys coming in to realise what it's like to play [in Portland]. It's a great place to play. It's passionate, it's exciting. You hear supporters giving you abuse and things like that. You've got to get used to that."
On plans and hopes for the remaining two games in the tournament:
"I thought [the first game between Chicago and Stabaek] was a decent game. It was two very different styles of play within the game. We'll prepare for Wednesday's game because it's going to be a tough game. I'll decide what I'll do with the personnel there, but the guys that didn't play today will probably get a run out on Wednesday. I think it's an important game for us, against a very good Stabaek team as well."
PA MODOU KAH
On the perfect return to Portland for him:
"Soccer is a little bit bizarre sport because it's always something like when you go to your old club it always seems to be that you will score. I always watch the game on television and I tell my wife, how is it that when you always go back to your ex club, you score. It's just in the script I guess.
On how he saw his goal:
"That was a tremendous delivery from Mauro and when you have a guy like Mauro with his qualities and his crosses, it's a dream for any soccer player so he put it on the right spot and it was just for me to attack the ball and I put it in the net."
On the intensity of a preseason game being like a league game:
"The boys, we rolled up our sleeves and everybody fought. We fought as a team, which is very important. Everybody knows when you come down to Portland, they like to play, but for us, it's the preseason, but the season is a week away so we have to fight and work together as a team. Today we played well. Every game against your rival is competitive, so you have to be at your best and today we showed why we are Vancouver."
On whether to celebrate against his old team:
"If I score, I will celebrate, but since this is a preseason game, there's no need for celebration. If it was a regular season game, yes, I will celebrate because, with all due respect for Portland, I feel that when you play a game and you score a goal, you should celebrate."
On Manneh and Hurtado not taking chances to add second:
"For me, when you have those chances, you have to finish it because those chances are the decider of the game, whether you let them back in the game or not. So when you kill the game with 2-0, with ten men, then it's a lot more easier to play, so that's something we need to work on."
How comfortable does he feel already playing with Waston?
"The big man is a beast. When you have a guy along like that, it's good for the back line. Both of us are aggressive players but we know how to play football, so far it's just about keeping working, getting the chemistry, the chemistry's going good. Both of us are willing to and we listen to each other and we make each other better everyday, which is important. You also have Christian Dean and Diego Rodriguez in the background, so no place is safe, so every day you got to show your best in training."
Did that feel like a preseason or a regular season game out there?
"Obviously it's a preseason game but we don't take any game lightly for the preseason. The preparation starts from day one. It's just like any other big game for us. It's just like we're fighting for the playoffs, so it's important for us that we play the right way. We've been saying all year, do things right, make sure we perform. It doesn't matter what game it is. There's no friendly game for us. It just felt like we're in the season."
On his own strong performance:
"Unfortunately I wasn't able to manage to score a goal. It's just one of those things. I just need to keep my composure, try to finish it next time and just go back to the drawing board and practice work on that. I thought the team played really well considering it's an away game and we're trying to get ready for the season and trying to fit in the new players that we have too. I thought they were fantastic. They fitted in really well. Obviously we need to work on some stuff for everyone but I thought it looked great tonight."
On Kah's headed goal:
"We've been working on it and I feel that we're going to score a lot of goals from set pieces because we've got those big guys on the team now. So goals are going to come from different places now."
On the difference between him last preseason and this:
"I feel great. Thanks to the medical staff and the staff here. I've been working with them in the offseason and you can definitely see it paid off. I feel really fit. I was never really tired for the whole game today. It was great."