Whitecaps' popgun offence fizzles again in Portland

 

 
 
 
 
Vancouver Whitecaps defender Tim Parker (26) goes up for a corner kick during the first half of an MLS western conference semifinal soccer match against the Portland Timbers in Portland, Ore., Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015.
 
 

Vancouver Whitecaps defender Tim Parker (26) goes up for a corner kick during the first half of an MLS western conference semifinal soccer match against the Portland Timbers in Portland, Ore., Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015.

Photograph by: Steve Dykes, AP

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PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Timbers, supposedly physically exhausted and mentally drained after a Thursday night overtime marathon, didn’t wilt Sunday. Didn’t cave into fatigue as some thought they might.

In fact, spurred on by a full-throated crowd of 21,000, they actually looked the fresher squad in the second half of the opening leg of the Western Conference semifinal, storming the Whitecaps’ box in the final 20 minutes of a 0-0 draw.

Only some desperation defending by the Caps’ resilient backline, another game-saving stop by the splendid David Ousted, who also smartly smothered a few crosses late, and a Max Urutti shot off the goalpost in the 89th minute preserved the score line.

And now the most pressure has to be on the Caps and their popgun offence for next Sunday’s second leg.

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A draw wasn’t a terrible result for the Caps, but a 0-0 stalemate on a cool, overcast afternoon at Providence Park was problematic given that away goals are the tiebreaker in the aggregate-goal playoff series. Portland is hardly an offensive power itself, but a 1-1 draw at BC Place would put the Timbers through to the conference final.

“Hopefully, we have the advantage of going home now and get that goal to lure them out a little bit,” said Ousted.

“Obviously, we would have loved to get that away goal, but it wasn’t to be today. Now we go back to BC Place and try to win it.”

It’ll be the first home playoff game in the Caps’ five-year MLS history. And they’ll play before their biggest ever crowd, with the organization opening the full lower bowl to 27,500 capacity.

But just who has the advantage in the second leg?

“Good question,” said Robinson. “I just think it’s one game of football. It’ll come down to fine lines again. It’s which players perform on the day. Two good teams.”

He’s right about that. There is little to separate these fierce Cascadia rivals. But the Caps inability to get that away goal could be very costly.

“Of course (it’s disappointing),” said Robinson. “They are important away goals, we know that. We had two great chances in the first half and we didn’t take them. Nothing you can do.”

Scoring a goal Sunday against the defensively sound Timbers was also was going to be difficult for the Caps, even with standout Portland goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey (13 shutouts to tie Ousted for the league lead) sidelined by the flu.

But Vancouver, shutout four times in seven games before popping three against play-out-the-string Houston in the regular season finale, went into this one without a creative force in midfield. Robinson chose to once again start holding midfielder Gershon Koffie in the crucial No. 10 position. It simply isn’t a good fit. He doesn’t possess the creativity to be a top-class playmaker.

“No, he’s not (a No. 10),” conceded Robinson, who apparently didn’t feel that Mauro Rosales or Pedro Morales, both of whom came on after the 63rd minute as substitutes, were fit enough to play 60 or minutes. “Is it his ideal role? No it’s not. We know that. He’d be the first to admit that.”

It didn’t help the Caps’ attack that striker Octavio Rivero needs a GPS to find the back of the net. Or that young winger Kekuta Manneh was hesitant and hugely ineffective in the final third.

The insertion of Rosales for Koffie and Morales for Manneh provided a little bit of savvy movement and distribution. But the Caps never seriously threatened Portland backup Jake Gleeson, who got the start in Kwarasey’s absence.

And it was the Timbers, with substitutes Urutti and Dairon Asprilla providing an injection of energy, who looked the greater threat to score late. But the Caps stout back line, led by the human clearance machine, Kendall Waston, was solid. Ousted made a leaping save off a Diego Valeri free kick headed for the top corner and was bailed out by his goalpost in the 89th minute on Urutti’s shot from in close.

“David made some huge stops,” said Waston, whose physical battle with big Portland striker Fanendo Adi was a must-watch clash of two giants.

“(David was) awesome. He’s showing that he’s the best goalkeeper in MLS.”

The Caps had just 40 per cent of the possession, with Koffie, in particular, guilty of giving the ball away. Koffie was set up nicely twice in the first half, but blew both chances with weak shots. It didn’t help either that winger Cristian Techera’s service on free kicks and crosses was poor.

Rivero continued his bewildering lack of finish, drifting an unchallenged left-footed shot from 14 yards out high and wide. He lay prone on the turf for a few seconds after the attempt, clearly frustrated at his misfortune.

It’s a sight Caps’ fans will be hoping they don’t see from 11 players after the final whistle of next Sunday’s game.

gkingston@vancouversun.com

WHITECAPS ESSENTIALS

THE SKINNY

Whitecaps striker Octavio Rivero, the man once know as a pure goal scorer, wasted a glorious first-half chance and Gershon Koffie, seriously miscast as an attacking midfielder, was weak on two good attempts himself in the opening 45 minutes. From that point it was basically hang on for the 0-0 draw Sunday at Portland’s Providence Park. The Timbers, supposedly exhausted after Thursday’s going to overtime and penalties to beat Kansas City, actually looked the stronger club late, but Caps’ goalkeeper David Ousted came up big and the Timbers’ Max Urutti hit the goalpost in the 89th minute.

THE GREAT DANE

Ousted was sharp in the eighth minute when he smothered a Lucas Melano attempt from close range after the Portland winger beat Jordan Harvey at the far post. But he made his best save in the 72nd minute, leaping high to his left to turn aside Diego Valeri’s rocket of a free kick from just under 30 yards. “I saw it pretty clear, saw it when it passed the wall,” said the Danish shot stopper. “I’ve seen him a few times. He likes that corner and is fantastic at putting it there. I needed a little bit extra to get there.”

CLEARANCE MACHINE

Kendall Waston, the Caps’ towering Costa Rican centre back, was dominant again, winning most of his aerial battles with Portland striker Fanendo Adi and booming clearances out of the Caps box. His best effort might have come in the 55th minute when Ousted raced out to stop a low ball into the box. It squirted off a couple of players and was sitting tantalizingly on the penalty spot before Waston took a few huge steps and lunged to drive the ball out of danger with his right foot.

SCOOTER QUIET

Caps’ 20-year-old winger Kekuta Manneh twice came up limping after tough tackles and he didn’t seem to have the jump he usually does. The speed merchant rarely went at Portland defenders and was hesitant at the top of the top of the box. Head coach Carl Robinson defended the youngster, whom he subbed off after 77 minutes. “I think he worked his socks off for the team. He had one or two chances to maybe do better in the final third, which I’m sure he’ll admit. but he put a great shift in defensively today.”

QUOTABLE

“We’ve just got to win the game. If we win the game of football in our backyard, then we’re through. If they get an away goal, then, obviously, there’s a slight advantage there. But we’ll rest up and be ready for next week.”

Caps’ head coach Carl Robinson

 
 
 
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Vancouver Whitecaps defender Tim Parker (26) goes up for a corner kick during the first half of an MLS western conference semifinal soccer match against the Portland Timbers in Portland, Ore., Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015.
 

Vancouver Whitecaps defender Tim Parker (26) goes up for a corner kick during the first half of an MLS western conference semifinal soccer match against the Portland Timbers in Portland, Ore., Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015.

Photograph by: Steve Dykes, AP

 
Vancouver Whitecaps defender Tim Parker (26) goes up for a corner kick during the first half of an MLS western conference semifinal soccer match against the Portland Timbers in Portland, Ore., Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015.
Vancouver Whitecaps forward Octavio Rivero (29) lies on the pitch after missing a shot as Portland Timbers defender Liam Ridgewell (24) walks away during the first half of an MLS western conference semifinal soccer match in Portland, Ore., Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015.
Vancouver Whitecaps forward Kekuta Manneh (23) and Portland Timbers defender Nat Borchers (7) battle for the ball during the second half of an MLS western conference semifinal soccer match in Portland, Ore., on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. The match ended in a 0-0 draw.
Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Gershon Koffie (28) tries to get past Portland Timbers defender Liam Ridgewell (24) and defender Nat Borchers (7) during the first half of an MLS western conference semifinal soccer match in Portland, Ore., Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015.
Vancouver Whitecaps forward Octavio Rivero (29) and Portland Timbers defender Liam Ridgewell (24) go up for a ball during the second half of an MLS western conference semifinal soccer match in Portland, Ore., on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. The match ended in a 0-0 draw.
Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Mauro Rosales (7) tries to get past Portland Timbers defender/midfielder Jack Jewsbury (13) during the second half of an MLS western conference semifinal soccer match in Portland, Ore., on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. The match ended in a 0-0 draw.
Vancouver Whitecaps forward Octavio Rivero (29) heads the ball past Portland Timbers defender Nat Borchers (7) during the second half of an MLS western conference semifinal soccer match in Portland, Ore., on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. The match ended in a 0-0 draw.
Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Gershon Koffie (28) tries to get past Portland Timbers defender Liam Ridgewell (24) and defender Nat Borchers (7) during the first half of an MLS western conference semifinal soccer match in Portland, Ore., Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015.
Portland Timbers defender Alvas Powell (2) goes after a ball with Vancouver Whitecaps forward Octavio Rivero (29) during the first half of an MLS western conference semifinal soccer match in Portland, Ore., Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015.
Vancouver Whitecaps forward Octavio Rivero, left, tries to reach a ball as Portland Timbers defender Nat Borchers (7) defends during the first half of an MLS western conference semifinal soccer match in Portland, Ore., Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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