Let me begin by saying: Happy Referee Week, everybody!
I am not sure what to call this game, but here are some names that come to mind: Kitgate, Vancouver Diving Championships, Whiteout, Whiteageddon, Garbagegate, or How to Lose a Referee License in 90 minutes.
Whatever you want to call it, the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps spent an hour and a half together on a rectangle of artificial turf on Saturday. From the very first whistle you could tell that both sides were affected by the similar kits, especially when a Portland player had their back to the ball, and turnovers were the obvious result.
Added to that was the fact that neither team looked to have brought its A-game to BC Place. Portland's usual crisp passing was just a little off, leading to turnovers deep in Portland's half and bringing flashbacks of 2012 to my mind.
When Portland was able develop an attack going, they did so through Darlington Nagbe. His passing and movement on and off the ball created numerous chances early in the game. Vancouver, on the other hand, wanted to turn Portland over high up the pitch and counter. And then dive.
Vancouver's plan fit perfectly with the unforced turnovers the combination of weak passing and white kits were creating. One such bad turnover gave Camillo Sanvezzo the ball and placed him in the path of Will Johnson. The subsequent dive earned Vancouver a free kick at the top of the box, which Camillo masterfully nailed for the first goal of the game.
Matters got worse when, in the 34th minute, Darlington Nagbe, who had been so important to the Timbers' attack to that point, left the field with a knock and was replaced by Kalif Alhassan.
As any good team knows, no matter what happens, a positive result is possible as long as they continue to work. Portland did just that, and just seven minutes into the second half they earned a penalty kick.
The Timbers won a throw-in deep in Whitecaps territory which resulted in a superb cross from Jack Jewsbury. The cross was cleared off the back line but fell to an onrushing Michael Harrington, who tapped the ball over to Will Johnson. Johnson took a shot from the left side of the penalty area, which hit the outstretched arm of Andy O'Brien. PK.
Will Johnson stepped up and placed the ball perfectly to the bottom left corner of the goal for the equalizer.
The joy was short lived, though, as Vancouver scored 2 minutes later to once again take the lead. Also after a throw-in, Camilo received the ball at the top of the box and, to the wonderment of all, stayed on his feet, posting up against Andrew Jean-Baptiste. As Will Johnson, Diego Chara and Futty Danso all closed in to try to dispossess him, Camilo flicked a pass to wide open Gershon Koffie, who punished the Timbers for their mistake.
So Portland once again had an uphill climb; it became even steeper in the 81st minute. Nigel Reo-Coker hit a searching long ball over the defense and a footrace ensued between Futty Danso and Camillo. As the two jockeyed for position while running shoulder to shoulder Camillo went down quite intentionally and scissored the legs of Futty. The ref, at least 40 yards behind the play, immediately blew his whistle and reached for his back pocket.
Portland, a man down and a goal behind, could have easily quit, but as they have shown countless times before, they didn't. A desperate long ball by Will Johnson towards Jose Valencia's vicinity was hopeful at best, but Jose Adolfo Valencia, who had entered the game only minutes prior, turned it into the perfect pass.
While sandwiched by two Vancouver defenders, he was able to bring the ball down with his chest (some say arm but they just don't know how Karma operates) before cooly sashaying past Andy O'Brien, throwing the big defender off-balance. El Trencito then took a moment to ponder the mysteries of the universe, then gently passed the ball past keeper Brad Knighton.
Valencia's left footed strike earned Portland a point. With Frederic Piquionne filling in at RB (yep that's right, he was RB for a few minutes) the Timbers bunkered for the final 9 minutes of the game to secure the draw.
Porter's Post-Game Presser
- Portland currently owns the longest unbeaten streak in MLS and the longest unbeaten streak on the road.
- Nagbe tweaked his ankle but Caleb Porter seems unconcerned about the severity, which gives us hope that it will be a week at the most before we see him again.
- This is only the 26th time a team has gone 10 consecutive games in MLS play without a loss.
- Nagbe is a very important cog in the Timbers' attack. If you don't see it, just take a look at the Timbers' offense in the first half and then in the second. He does so many little things that Kalif Alhassan can't.
- I think it is time to see more of Valencia. In the event Nagbe isn't able to return in a week's time, it would be interesting to see a front three of Valencia, Wallace and Ryan Johnson with a midfield of Chara, Johnson and Valeri.
- For those who think we Timbers fans are just using Rose City Colored glasses to assess this match, please read this from an impartial national media guy.
- Seven of the Timbers' next ten matches are on the road. Though I hope it does, I can't expect the streak to continue to the end of that stretch. Still, let's enjoy it while we can.
Andrew Wheeler contributed to this report.