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  • Report and Reaction: Portland pounce on Vancouver's slackness to turn Whitecaps playoff hopes to woodchip

    Michael Mccoll

    Carl Robinson brought Steven Beitashour and Andy O'Brien back into the starting line up after resting them against Dallas last weekend, with Erik Hurtado confining Darren Mattocks to the bench after his goal in Texas on Saturday.

    The game was to be lively and end to end from the off and it was the Whitecaps who got the first chance just 49 seconds in when Sebastian Fernandez ran in on goal and hit his shot a foot or so wide of the left post.

    Hurtado was getting a lot of room to play but he took too long to bring down an excellent long ball from Fernandez in the 9th minute and the opportunity went from a one on one with the goalkeeper to Portland getting six defenders back.

    The play was going from one end of the pitch to the other, but it was the Caps who were getting the goalscoring chances.

    Jordan Harvey sent a ball across the face of the goal but there was to be no takers and Portland breathed another sigh of relief. The Timbers responded with a quick break and David Ousted had to be out quick to snuff out the danger.

    Russell Teibert has been struggling offensively this season but he made room for himself after some nice link up work with Mauro Rosales in the 18th minute, only to see his fierce shot hit off a Timber for a corner.

    Vancouver's inability to take those chances was punished in the 28th minute when Portland took the lead, pretty much against the run of play.

    As has been the Whitecaps' downfall for much of this season, poor marking and poor tracking cost them dearly when Diego Valeri was allowed to run in unmarked and volley home a Jorge Villafana cross from 12 yards out for the opener.

    It was a stunning finish that gave Ousted no chance, and a tough time now lay ahead for the Caps.

    More sloppy Vancouver defending went unpunished in the 38th minute when Fanendo Adi powered through the backline and played the ball to a wide open Alvas Powell, but Ousted stood tall and blocked his near post shot.

    That was to be the last real action of the half and Portland headed in a goal up and back in the playoff places in the West.

    There were no changes for either side at the half and Vancouver came out again all guns blazing, but without managing to get off the shots needed.

    The Caps should have had a penalty in the 54th minute when Fernandez had his ankle taken out as he tried to skip through two Timbers defenders, but it may have been a case of his reputation preceding him referee Hilario Grajeda waved away the claims.

    Portland started to control the play and looked dangerous every time they broke forward. Darlington Nagbe had a shot from the edge of the box that whipped over and then followed that up in the 62nd minute with a shot which Ousted could only parry but the danger was cleared before Fanendo Adi could pounce.

    The Nigerian wasn't to be denied however and he got his goal four minutes later when Valeri dispossessed Matias Laba just inside the Portland half and he streaked clear with a two on two break before playing the ball inside for Adi to simply slot home and make it 2-0 Portland.

    Vancouver threw everything forward. Too much so and when O'Brien and Waston ended up in a heap on top of Pa Modou Kah in the 69th minute, Portland streaked forward and Adi easily stroked home his second, and the Timbers third, through Ousted's legs.

    And that was all she wrote. Both teams had a couple of half chances, but even with some substitutions, the Caps attack looked woefully impotent. There was an appeal for a Darren Mattocks penalty, but again the referee wasn't interested.

    Vancouver now have five games to save their season and go from being the chased to the chasers. Will that help them play more relaxed? Even if it doesn't, can anything help them finish their chances?

    Real Salt Lake come to town next Saturday. A team that just hit five goals and destroyed Colorado last night. It could be a long five weeks.

    FINAL SCORE: Portland Timbers 3 - 0 Vancouver Whitecaps

    ATT: 20,814

    PORTLAND: Donovan Ricketts; Alvas Powell, Pa Modou Kah, Liam Ridgewell, Jorge Villafana; Diego Chara, Will Johnson, Diego Valeri; Rodney Wallace (Gaston Fernandez 87), Darlington Nagbe, Fanendo Adi (Maxi Urruti 72) [subs Not Used: Andrew Weber, Ben Zemanski, Jack Jewsbury, Norberto Paparatto, Michael Harrington]

    VANCOUVER: David Ousted; Steven Beitashour, Andy O'Brien, Kendall Waston, Jordan Harvey; Matias Laba, Russell Teibert, Mauro Rosales (Kekuta Manneh 65), Pedro Morales, Sebastian Fernandez (Nicolas Mezquida 76); Erik Hurtado (Darren Mattocks 76) [subs Not Used: Paolo Tornaghi, Ethen Sampson, Sam Adekugbe, Mehdi Ballouchy]


    On the overall game:

    "They got a good grip of the game when they scored their first goal. The first 20-25 minutes, I thought we were excellent. We weren't able to capitalise on that after a very good start and they have their very first shot and they score a goal, and goals change games, as we all know.

    "Then there wasn't really very much in the game, but one or two mistakes cost us in the end and obviously the 3-0 scoreline is not great for us. Performance wise was good, result wise was awful."

    Did Caps fade after a bright start?

    "I think we did. That's a fair assessment. But to come away from home and to start as bright as we did for 25 minutes and take the game to them, without getting the goal. But it doesn't matter what you do between the two penalty boxes it's what happens in penalty boxes that matters."

    Portland have eight unanswered goals now against Vancouver, do they just have the mark of this team?

    "Maybe. I know Caleb before the game, his comments were that the 3-0 would stand them in good stead. He must have had a crystal ball because it finished 3-0 again today."

    Are his team wilting under the pressure?

    "I don't think we're wilting. With teams, you try and take your chances when you can. If you don't take your chances then people can say whatever you want. I'm the manager of this team and if you want to say it's wilting then I'm wilting.

    Is it game over if Vancouver don't score the first goal?

    "You could be right. We have to get a goal somewhere to start maybe, because when we go a goal down we're probably not playing with the same energy or desire or confidence that we should do. But we've got to learn because we're not going to always score the first goal.

    "In the early part of the season we always scored the first goal. We were a team that was playing with confidence and creating chances and not wilting. Today we conceded the first goal and we lost our way a little bit, that's why getting in at halftime was important, but we managed to regroup again. The second goal was always going to be the crucial goal and fortunately enough for them they got it and unfortunately for me I didn't get it."

    Playoff battle over these next five games:

    "There's 15 points to play for. We're chasing them now. It's a different scenario when you're chasing a team rather than when a team's chasing you. So the ball's in their court. We can concentrate on our business and make sure that if we play like that, and get more people in the box to try and have the desire to score goals, we won't be far away."

    Will it give the team the spark they so badly need to be the chasers and not the chased?

    "I hope so because something's got to change," Robinson admitted. "We've had chances to pull away and haven't. They've had chances to catch us and they haven't. Today was their chance, they took it, they caught us and they're ahead of us now. So the dynamic might change a little bit but all you can concentrate on is your own business."

    On facing an in-form Real Salt Lake next after their 5-1 demolition of Colorado:

    "They were not bad, weren't they. We'll see next week after the game. It's a big challenge for us and if we want to play in big games, important games, we've got to cope with this pressure. There's a little bit of pressure on next week, some would say massive pressure, but put the pressure on me and let them play the way I know they can play. If we can do that and if we can get a chance or two and take a chance or two, then hopefully we can get a win."

    On bouncing back from this:

    "We've got to rebound back. The beauty of this game is that when you do lose you feel at the bottom of a pit, but when you do win, it makes it all the more relevant. You take moments when you win and realise that you've got to lose to win and we've got to take that on board today. We'll take it on the chin, I'll take it on the chin. We didn't win today, we conceded three goals, so I'm at fault so we'll go next week."


    On the loss

    "I'm devastated right now. It's not a good way to lose, it's not a fun place to lose. I know you don't want to hear it, but there is five games left. We can't feel sorry for ourselves, we can't get down. We need to continue to work. If this ends our season, that's not ok, so we need to get back to it. We have Salt Lake next week and that's another big, big game."

    Message to the fans

    "We can only apologise to the fans. They've been great. They were great when we were coming in to the stadium and they got people talking about them. We can only apologise for what they're viewing right now but promise them that we won't give up, we won't stop fighting for the club or for them. Again, I go back to the five games left and we have to show them in these five games that we can come out with wins."

    On the playoff battle over these next five games:

    "I think Portland will drop points and if they do we need to capitalise on that. I believe we can push our way into the playoffs. It needs to be focussed on ourselves. We can't look at Portland, we can't look at everybody else. We need to look at performing in these last five games."

    Is it game over if Caps don't score first?

    "No. i still feel that 1-0 is 1-0. It's one goal. It's one chance that's got to be put away but no, it would be nice to just get ahead in a game and let them chase a little bit. We still need to continue what we're doing."

    Team better suited with being the chasers than the chased?

    "I think we need to come to terms with us being chasing and keep doing that for the rest of the season. I don't think we need to worry about anything else except getting points for ourselves. We can't look at anybody else. We need to chase those points and do it every weekend and then we'll look at it."


    On the loss:

    "I thought for the first half hour we did OK. Then the goal took the wind out of our sails because it was their first attempt. It was a super finish. You can’t take anything away from them. It was disappointing sort of how we reacted to the goal. It’s something we have to take on the chin and dust it off. Irrespective of this result, there’s still a lot of work to be done. If we won this game, there’s still a lot of points to play for. Now we’re chasing them, so we’ll see how they react to that."

    On the team’s difficulties scoring goals:

    "We did have a few opportunities. They got men behind the ball and I think they were looking to break on us. Maybe in that first half hour we were trying to play and get the ideal goal. We have players that can shoot from distance. It’s great, hindsight, being able to look back on it. I’m sure we’ll analyze it. I know I’ll do. There’ll be things that we could have done better, but initially, even after the game, that was my observation of the first half hour."

    On the difficulty of getting the mentality right after a loss:

    "I think the way the league is set up is to go out and win games. We’re in a position now where we need to chase them. Even if we won this game, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Five games left now, so we’re looking forward to the next game."

    On if chasing Portland for a playoff spot will take pressure off:

    "I don’t know. You say we’re a young group and the only way you learn is by playing. A situation like this will stand us in good stead. In terms of the strikers, we’ve seen some fantastic goals this season. It’s been in sort of lumps and periods where we haven’t scored goals. We’re not going to throw anyone under the bus. We’ve got five games left and they’re a very important five and it starts with Salt Lake in the next game."

    On the feeling of watching the Timbers break away for their third goal:

    "I have to watch my language, but you need to get off your backside and get back as quick as you can. It was unfortunate. On another day that could end up dropping down at somebody’s feet like it did to [blas] Pérez last week for FC Dallas. It didn’t go our way. We have to dust ourselves down and get on with it."



    Overall thoughts on the game:

    "It was going to be a big game we knew that. It was going to be all six games, but like I told you guys leading into this game whoever won this game was going to be in the driver’s seat, so we control our fate. We take care of business in the next five then we are going to be in the playoffs, but we’ve got some work to do still.

    "I’m really pleased with our performance. This was a pressure game. This is crunch time. I knew that our experience in these situations last year when we got results under pressure was going to be pay off. I thought for me that was the biggest difference was that mentally we looked like we were confident, experienced and mature. I thought we were very patient and composed. I thought it was our best defensive game all year, I don’t even know what the stats are but from my standpoint I thought it was our best defensive performance of the year."

    On Vancouver's performance and containing them:

    "That is a good team, it’s a talented team and they didn’t get very many good looks all day long. I think a big part of it was our backline, our holding mids, all the way up through our front guys. It was team defending – sound collective defending, very organized. I thought our shape was very good. I thought we were disciplined. We were patient. It took us 27 minutes to get the first goal. In some games we haven’t been patient, we haven’t been organized, we’ve been a bit reckless trying to get that first goal and I thought today we looked very mature."

    On disciplined display:

    "When you get in games like this when, you’ve got to get results. We can’t be reckless. We don’t need to be flying up the field. We don’t need eight, nine, ten guys getting forward. I thought today our balance was right. I thought our shape was right. I thought our discipline and our patience allowed us to get the first goal and once we did I was really pleased second half we continued to stay disciplined and patient and scored on a couple of counters to put the game away."

    On Fanendo Adi’s play:

    "I told him before the game, ‘play like a man today’, was what I told him and he looked like a man. He was a beast. And he’s going against two of the strongest guys in the league [Andy] O’Brien and [Kendall] Waston. Those guys are tough matchup and I thought at times he manhandled them. A big part of our positive play in the attack was we were able to play through him and he was able to hold the ball up. It allowed us to get our midfielders into the game, it allowed us to get up the field. Then he obviously scored two great goals. People forget he’s still a young player, he’s only 23 years old and he’s still learning this league. He’s only been here a couple months. He’s only going to get better as he settles in. I thought he played like the true target, number nine that we want him to be, which is bang the centrebacks, hold the ball, get on the end of stuff and finish the couple plays you get, which is what he did."

    On Diego Valeri orchestrating the game:

    "He’s been instrumental for us this year. Obviously, he tied the single-season assist record, took the first goal and that was what for me opened the game up. It was a great finish. And I don’t know if there is anything more I can say about him. He’s in my opinion one of the best players in the league, if not the best."

    On whether Valeri still surprises him:

    "Yeah, he does. He’s special. He’s playing the best soccer of his career. It was funny I was walking through the locker room with him the other day when he was in there and I said to him, ‘you know you are playing the best football of your career right now’ and I wanted to see what he would say. And he said, ‘I think I am’. He’s had some good seasons. In the Argentine league and with Porto, but he is his prime right now and he is in a groove and that’s what you want out of your big time players at this stage in the season. You want an Adi to get a couple of goals. You want Darlington [Nagbe] to have a good game. He got an assist. You want Valeri to produce. He had a goal and an assist. This is what we need. Hopefully we will just continue to let this roll. I’ll stay out of those guys’ way and we will continue to produce. But again the thing that has been lacking at times wasn’t lacking today and that was the defending and for me that’s why we won the game."

    On whether he has settled on this line-up:

    "Well, it wouldn’t be too smart to change it at this point. I think we’ve got some other guys that are always going to be sniffing around to start. Maxi’s [urruti] shown he can produce, Gastón [Fernández] shown he can produce. We’ve got a deep team. This team, if you look at both Vancouver games, has felt like the type of team we need to be both sides of the ball and if you are looking at evidence those are probably our two best games of the year and we played the same line-up. The other thing is they have gained some confidence together. They’ve gained some chemistry. We haven’t been able to like I’ve said in the past get into a groove. So we are in a bit of groove with this line-up. This line-up does have the right dimensions in terms of team speed, enough technical ability, enough defensive organization and grit. It’s like pieces of the puzzles. I put my hand up there are a few games I haven’t put the puzzle together the right way, but I think we’ve certainly gotten it right recently with this group."

    On why this current defensive unit is successful:

    "I think our wingers our defending. That’s huge. There have been some games when our wingers aren’t defending outside backs. Our holding mids, I felt today was their best defensive game of the year. Chara and Johnson being on the same page, connected. That is a big part of how we play. We need the holding mids to protect the centrebacks, to protect the hole. I thought today both of them were outstanding.

    "I thought again today the balance was right. The outside backs got forward, but also got back. They weren’t both up the field at the same time. The d-mids got forward, but one was always sitting. The pulley system was working; the see-saw was working there. I thought the wingers chipped in to defend. A lot of times if they don’t we are defending with six guys versus seven or eight guys with the wingers getting tucked in.

    "The other thing is overall we all were a bit more patient and in control. We weren’t flying out all the time trying to win the ball. We were disciplined and our team shape, our compactness was much improved. So hopefully we can build on that because clean sheets at this stage of the season means you’re going to be a team getting points, getting results because we will find goals."

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