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Timbers drop MLS season opener to Vancouver Whitecaps

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Portland’s MLS campaign begins with a dispiriting 1-0 defeat to the Whitecaps in Sandy, Utah.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Timbers’ 2021 MLS campaign began with a thud, as they dropped a dispiriting away contest against the Vancouver Whitecaps by a score of 1-0. Lucas Cavallini connected with a Cristian Gutierrez corner unmarked at the back post in the second half, and Portland couldn’t make up the deficit.

Portland fielded the same lineup for the third conseutive match, with their bench options limited by the continued injury absences of Jeremy Ebobisse and Sebastian Blanco. While still an away match, rather than play in BC Place, this game was played in Rio Tinto stadium in Sandy, Utah, which is serving as Vancouver’s US “home base” due to pandemic-related travel restrictions between the United States and Canada.

The beginning of the match and the first half would be marked by Portland ceding possession to Vancouver, and Vancouver not doing much with it. Vanouver had a moment or two of danger that they created, including a shot from distance that forced Steve Clark into an alert save. Outside of a few corner kick opportunities, the Whitecaps didn’t really threaten Portland’s goal.

At the other end, Portland had their fair share of chances. In the 16th minute Valeri had a clear look at the far post, but curled his shot just wide. In the 38th minute, Dairon Asprilla had a curling effort from distance that forced a great save out of Vancouver goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau.

On the ensuing corner kick, Asprilla had the opportunity to head in the Portland opener, but it went just wide. Asprilla would be in the spotlight again, as he went for an audacious overhead kick in first half stoppage time that flew over the goal.

The Timbers wouldn’t be able to convert any of their chances in the first half, and both teams went into the break scoreless.

The second half started with Portland getting caught on the back foot. Vancouver applied significantly more pressure in the early minutes of the second half, eventually ending in some manic moments in front of the Timbers goal.

Vancouver’s pressure would payoff, as they capitalized on their initiative. After a crazy moment where the ball pinged around and just hit the post and rolled out, Crisrian Gutierrez swung in a corner towards the back post, where Vancouver star striker Lucas Cavallini was wide open to rifle home a header and put the home team ahead.

Having been put on the back foot and trailing for the first time in 2021, the Timbers tried their best to put their foot on the ball and take back some of the initiative. Yimmi Chara had a golden chance in the box at around the hour mark, where he laid off the ball for Josecarlos Van Rankin rather than shoot himself, but the chance was cleared.

Portland would create more opportunities to score in the second half, but could not capitalize on them. Diego Chara had a square ball in the 68th minute that couldn’t be stabbed home. Diego Valeri put Eryk Williamson in behind with a fantastic through ball, only to see his shot blocked by a well-timed tackle from Vancouver defender Andy Rose. Valeri whipped in another fantastic cross for Felipe Mora, who misplayed the ball in and got called for a handball in the process. Despite positive play, the visitors couldn’t score.

Later in the second half, Portland had to deal with a crisis at goalkeeper. Starting keeper Steve Clark came way off his line to deal with a ball in behind that Cavallini looked poised to pounce on. In his process of clearing it, Clark appeared to injure his right quad muscle. In the 78th minute, the Timbers subbed in Jeff Attinella in favor of Clark due to the injury.

Vancouver then looked like they had gotten their second in the 82nd minute. After a foul and a free kick, the ball fell to the feet of Cristian Dajome, who stabbed home what he thought was Vancouver’s second goal. After a VAR check however, it was ruled that a Whitecaps player was offside in the buildup to the goal, and so therefore the goal was called off.

Portland couldn’t do anything with their moment of fortune however, as they never found the back of the net in the closing stages. The match ended 1-0 in favor of the home side, and Portland leaves Utah with their first result in MLS league play as a disheartening defeat.

With the chances they created. Portland has to feel disappointed that they couldn’t score and get a result, especially as Vancouver’s lone goal came via a momentary lapse on a set piece. The Timbers will have plenty to work on during this week in training, as they are next in action at Providence Park on Saturday, April 24, when they host the Houston Dynamo in their MLS home opener.