BY MIKE DONOVAN
For the second time this season, the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps played a hard-fought match filled with numerous fouls and injuries. And for the second time, the Cascadian rivals battled to a draw.
Ryan Johnson and Jordan Harvey delivered the goals, as the Caps and Timbers drew, 1-1, at Jeld-Wen Field Saturday night. The draw leaves little separation between the two clubs, as Portland now sits at 35 points, just two clear of the Caps.
The draw was Portland’s 11th in 22 matches and marked the fourth time this season that the club didn’t win a match after scoring first.
“At this point of the year, we need wins. And that is two more points we have thrown away,” Will Johnson said. ”(On) both ends of field, we got to start taking a little more responsibility. Attacking-wise, we’re not hungry enough.”
While disappointed in the end result, Caleb Porter was happy with his team’s overall performance.
“I thought, honestly, from a mentality standpoint, from an energy standpoint—one of our best games of the year,” Porter said.
“We were, in my opinion, clearly the better team. We had better chances, they had very little from the run of play.”
With the Whitecaps without starters due to injuries and suspensions, Porter believed Vancouver had succeed with a game plan that consisted of physical play that depended on not allowing the Timbers to develop a rhythm.
“[Vancouver] came in here, they fought hard. Clearly the plan was to chop the game up,” Porter said. ”The way the game went in terms of the officiating helped them. But in the end, I thought we did enough to win the game.”
After a first half that saw four yellow cards, two injuries, and no goals, the second half sprang to life just four minutes after the restart. Johnson, who came on as a first-half sub for the injured Frederic Piquionne, found the back of the net after he was left unmarked by the Vancouver defense. Johnson easily headed the ball past Vancouver’s David Ousted after a cross from Diego Valeri.
The assist was Valeri’s eighth of the season, which is tied for second most in MLS, while the goal was the only blemish for Ousted, who was making his MLS debut. The Dane had two saves as the majority of the Timbers 13 shots never threatened Ousted.
Vancouver got their goal twenty minutes after falling behind when Jordan Harvey headed home a Camilo corner kick. It was the Caps first goal off a corner kick since March of 2012 and gave the visiting Vancouver squad and their traveling fans the draw.
“Teams are going to score in moments against us. They are not going to score with a ten-pass counters,” Porter said. “They got us on a corner kick. We make that play and we win the game. It’s that simple. We played well enough.”
“When we are giving away amateur goals on set pieces, we are making harder on ourselves,” Will Johnson said.
Vancouver came out in a lineup that featured three usual centerbacks after the suspensions of Jun Marques Davidson and Gershon Koffie in the midfield. Brad Rusin, who started as a defensive midfielder, left the game on a stretcher and was diagnosed with a right knee sprain.
With Diego Chara out due to injury, the Timbers started Jack Jewsbury in his stead and gave Alvas Powell the start at right back. The 19-year-old Jamaican International made his MLS debut and was handed a yellow card just five minutes into his Timbers career for an elbow to Brad Rusin.
“I thought he did well. He brings more of a prototypical outside back in the system we want to play,” Porter said on Powell’s performance. “It wasn’t perfect. There were some little things he needs to correct positioning-wise.”
Portland and Vancouver are two of the eight Western Conference teams that are locked in a battle for the five postseason spots. The difference between first and eighth is just eight points after Saturday’s results. But according to at least one Timber, Portland wants more.
“We want first place, we don’t want to settle with just making the playoffs, so it’s frustrating when you have an opportunity like tonight to separate yourself. We could have gone five points clear, but instead we are still right there with them,” Michael Harrington said.
Next up for the Timbers is a trip to Real Salt Lake for the US Open Cup semifinals on Wednesday, which will be followed by a weekend off. Vancouver returns home to take on the San Jose Earthquakes, who have won three consecutive matches.