The Portland Timbers took down the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps 3-1, breaking down their bunkering opponents with two moments of brilliance before putting them away with a classic Timbers counter.
As the rain started to come down in the opening minutes of the match, the game began to take shape in predictable fashion: the Timbers held the bulk of the possession in the attacking end, while the Whitecaps looked to go over the top and catch the Timbers off balance.
With the Whitecaps keeping ten men behind the ball at all times when not in possession, the Timbers were forced to switch the ball from flank to flank in an effort to find space in the attack.
Those efforts nearly came to fruition in the 20th minute when a pair of shots were narrowly saved by the Whitecaps defense. First a cleared header fell to Sebastian Blanco wide on the left flank and the Argentine took the ball down then hit a hard shot on goal that had Vancouver keeper Maxime Crepeau sprawling out across the face of goal to make the save. Crepeau was able to palm the ball away, but the rebound fell to Diego Valeri in space on the right. Running onto the ball, the Maestro smashed a shot toward goal that had the measure of Crepeau, but Ali Adnan was on hand to block the ball away, putting his face directly into its path to preserve the 0-0 scoreline.
In the 28th minute, the Timbers got their opening goal through a wonderful solo effort from Blanco. Receiving the ball in space on the left flank, Blanco took a touch toward goal and, with no defenders closing him down, hit a knuckling ball from 25 yards out that swerved, dipped, and glanced off the hand of Crepeau before hitting the back of the net.
The lead would not last, however, as the visitors would pull even in the 38th minute off a flukey but fantastic corner kick. After the initial corner kick from Fredy Montero was headed away by Julio Cascante, the ball fell into the path of Whitecaps homegrown player Theo Blair running parallel to the top of the box. As the ball dropped in his path, Blair stuck out a boot and made contact, hitting a dipping volley that curled down over Steve Clark and into the goal, evening up the scoreline at 1-1.
Marvin Loria had a chance to put the Timbers back in front in the 43rd minute after receiving the ball at the top of the Whitecaps box following a series of quick passes from the Timbers. Turning to goal, Loria snapped off a quick shot through traffic that Crepeau only saw at the last second but still managed to stick a leg out for a timely kick-save.
As the final minutes of the first half wound down, the Timbers thought they had a penalty coming their way after Blair headed the ball into his own arm in the Vancouver box. Referee Ted Unkle, however, waved play on and declined to review the play, instead sending the teams to the locker room after the next restart. The Timbers players and staff, incensed by the non-call, confronted Unkle en masse before heading to the locker room.
In the 55th minute, the Timbers got their goal anyway, this time on a powerful strike from distance from Loria. Receiving the ball out on the right flank, Loria dribbled around his defender, curling toward the top of the box, and hit a low shot that sailed through the eighteen before sliding inside the far post to put the Timbers up 2-1.
The Timbers were on the friendly end of a call from Unkle in the 57th minute when the referee waved off an apparent Vancouver goal from Yordy Reyna. After the speedy forward made a defense splitting run in between Cascante and Bill Tuiloma, he received a well-weighted through ball and calmly shipped past the sliding form of Clark only for a delayed flag and a review of the play to determine that he was offside when the pass was played.
As the second half ground on, the Whitecaps were forced to come out of their shell, bit by bit, giving the Timbers room to run at their back line. While Portland still maintained the bulk of possession, they were able to regularly find moments to break out with the Whitecaps committed forward. The counter attacks lead to dangerous moments, but chances remained hard to come by as the visitors recovered.
In the 83rd minute, Blanco slipped a ball through the Vancouver back line for a run from Valeri, finding his fellow Argentine in on goal. With a sharp angle in which to shoot, Valeri squared up and looked to smash the ball into the roof of the net, but instead put his close-in attempt up and over the bar.
Montero managed a chance for the Whitecaps in the 88th minute, playing a series of short passes off his teammates before snatching a shot toward the near post that Clark was able to get down and save neatly.
In the final minute of regulation, the Timbers put the match away with a flowing, counter-attacking goal from Jeremy Ebobisse. Finding Tomas Conechny out on the left wing after a spell of Vancouver possession, the Timbers’ youngest Argentine launched himself forward, carrying the ball into the attacking end before hitting a perfectly weighted through ball into the path of Ebobisse who was making a run toward the back post. Ebobisse controlled the ball in stride before stroking it past Crepeau for the final goal of the night.
The Timbers continue their run of home games on Wednesday when they will host the Chicago Fire.