Football. Bloody hell. Some bloke named Alex Ferguson once spoke those words after his Manchester United team scored two stoppage time goals to win the European Cup from under the noses of a stunned Bayern Munich in 1999.
This game between the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps didn't quite carry those stakes, but it left you in that same state where you open your mouth, and in wonder, all you can say is, "Football. Bloody hell."
As this Cascadia Cup match fell from afternoon to night in Vancouver BC, we saw a game go from ordinary to extraordinary. It was one of the most exciting MLS games of the year. There were four fantastic goals, more fantastic saves, crunching tackles, and a game that was played faster than the turf upon which it was played.
It's possible that the Timbers have never played a game with as much explosiveness as we saw in the last half an hour at BC Place, and with so much on the line, it was no wonder that after the game sprung to life, the drama just kept increasing.
Portland stuck with Caleb Porter's "1-0" starting eleven, with one major caveat. Diego Valeri was unfit to start, still nagged and hassled by an abductor injury long since suffered. Valeri's fitness is a major concern, considering the effects of the injury seem to be worsening, not letting up over time. Portland must, must have their playmaker for the stretch run of the season and playoffs.
When Valeri is out, it's Darlington Nagbe's team, and Nagbe kicked off the scoring late in the first half with an absolute pile-driver of a goal. Picking up the ball 25 yards from goal, Nagbe took two touches and blasted the ball into the upper 90, rendering the presence of a goalkeeper insignificant.
The goals Nagbe is scoring are just getting better and better. This is a player who has finally hit his comfort zone in MLS, and while many have urged Nagbe to be more selfish and nasty between the white lines, this is Nagbe's only style of nasty. He's the new Timbers all-time single-season scoring leader, with his ninth goal of the year.
In 2011, Kenny Cooper blasted in a similarly special goal, and Portland beat Vancouver at BC Place 1-0, and in 2012, Jack Jewsbury hit an unbelievable strike for another 1-0 win north of the boarder. It looked like that 1-0 scoreline would stand up again in 2013, and it made sense: This was the 1-0 lineup, and Futty Danso and Pa Kah were shutting down Vancouver's enigmatic attack.
The Whitecaps looked like a team willing to go quietly into play oblivion. But it all changed very quickly. Camilo was dynamite in the Timbers' trip to BC Place in the spring, but he'd been quieted, and in the 75th minute, Donovan Ricketts made a huge double save, denying Camilo from point-blank range.
So, naturally, Camilo lined a free-kick in the back of the net a minute later, with the help of a deflection off a useless Rodney Wallace. There was nothing Ricketts could do, and the game took off.
On the play after the restart, Darlington Nagbe drove down the field, pulled back like a point-guard, and hit the trailer Will Johnson for a slam dunk, or in this case, a lovely sweeping finish to put the Timbers back up 2-1.
Apparently, Portland bought in to the fact that a team is at their most vulnerable in the minutes after they've scored, and Portland's conviction in that old soccer adage might have inspired Vancouver.
Just a minute later, the indefatigable Darren Mattocks bombed down the left and hurled a long ball beyond the area, which World Cup veteran Lee Young-Pyo volleyed back into the box for Camilo to lace a ridiculous bicycle-kick past Ricketts.
It was a work of art, Picasso on roller-blades. Camilo was flying. He didn't touch the ground once during his celebration. Three minutes, three goals, 2-2.
The game just refused to calm down. As much as Portland would have liked to win, that's how much Vancouver needed to win. With the aid of the artificial turf at BC Place, the Whitecaps weren't so much playing soccer as ice hockey, blowing by Portland defenders and forcing Ricketts into one of his best performances as an MLS goalkeeper.
As the game moved into stoppage time, Ricketts palmed a Lee shot over the bar, then pulled off a flying, one-hand save on a 20 yard volley from Kakuta Manneh, who hit a ball that fell from ceiling height first-time. It was the kind of play that made both sets of fans stand and cheer, for everything involved.
There was a darker side to the game as well: A penalty shout deep into stoppage time, as Futty made slight contact with Manneh, was turned down. Manneh's incensed appeals allowed Kah to do his favorite thing in soccer: Grab another player and talk to him in a superior manner with the referee looming. Manneh is also from The Gambia, so at least it was easy to converse.
Portland's two goal-scorers took vicious sliding tackles. Will Johnson early in the second half, and Nagbe from Camilo late on. In both instances, the Vancouver player was lucky to stay on the field, and the Portland player was lucky not to have gotten seriously hurt. Nagbe was taken off, though it looked a precaution more than anything else.
Vancouver, you have to say, finally put it all together in the second half. Still, it was alarming how easily beaten for pace the Timbers' much-heralded experienced back-line was beaten for pace. Mattocks was switched to Jewsbury's side of the field and immediately found joy, and no one else in the back could quite keep up.
Hopefully, Vancouver hasn't exposed a way to attack this defensively strong Portland team: Fast-break soccer. Not everyone, however, plays on the BC Place turf.
This result means that the Timbers can kiss the Cascadia Cup goodbye, the trophy will go to either Seattle, or as I'm sure Timbers' fans would prefer, Vancouver.
Thankfully, the Cascadia Cup is barely on the radar this season, as Portland have important things to play for. The Supporters' Shield is one of those things, but a huge chance to pick up points on Seattle, Salt Lake, and New York was lost.
All in all, this was an absolute thriller. And with that, the countdown to Seattle - Portland at Jeld-Wen Field Sunday night starts now.