All year long, Vancouver Whitecaps FC have talked about making history.
They did that by winning the club’s first-ever Voyageurs Cup, setting new club records in points and wins, and by hosting their first home playoff match in MLS on Sunday night at BC Place.
It just didn’t have the storybook ending they were hoping for.
The young ‘Caps saw their season come to a heartbreaking conclusion on Sunday in front of a record crowd of 27,837, falling 2-0 to Portland Timbers in the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinal.
Fanendo Adi scored the all-important first goal in the 31st minute, and Diego Chara added the sucker punch with a goal in stoppage time to seal Vancouver’s fate.
Portland will now move on to the Western Conference Championship against FC Dallas, who defeated Seattle Sounders FC in penalties earlier in the night.
Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson made a single change to his starting lineup after a scoreless draw in last weekend’s first leg. It was a big one, too.
Captain Pedro Morales, who had been dealing with a hamstring strain for months, got his first start since October 9. The Chilean replaced Russell Teibert, which allowed Gershon Koffie to drop back to his familiar defensive midfield position.
Morales received a massive ovation when his name was announced in the starting lineup.
The stadium was absolutely buzzing – and that started well before kickoff. The players responded. It was a fast-paced and entertaining start with early chances at both ends.
In the fourth minute, Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe had a decent attempt from inside the area but Whitecaps FC defender Kendall Waston stood tall to make the block. Shortly later, the Timbers nearly caught the ‘Caps on the counter but Dairon Asprilla missed wide from the right side of the box.
At the other end of the pitch, a lively Kekuta Manneh was causing all sorts of problems for the Timbers’ back line. After coming close on an early opportunity from a poor angle, Manneh fired a long-distance strike off the post in the ninth minute after blowing by Chara in midfield.
It was a bright start for the youngster, but then disaster struck.
In the 25th minute, Manneh limped off the field with a left ankle sprain. Portland took the advantage shortly later. After a well-worked throw-in, Diego Valeri broke into the ‘Caps box and picked out Adi, who smashed it home from close range in the 31st minute.
The ‘Caps had a couple of late opportunities on a pair of free kicks from substitute Mauro Rosales, but Portland held firm and took a big 1-0 lead into the second frame.
To their credit, Portland managed the game well in the early stages of the second half by keeping the ball and forcing Vancouver to chase the game. The ‘Caps still had their chances though, including a 67th-minute Rosales free kick that Jordan Harvey headed wide at the back post and an 83rd-minute Robert Earnshaw bicycle that landed on top the goal.
It was just one of those nights for Vancouver and it ended in heartbreak after Chara added insurance in stoppage time, finishing off a Timbers counter with the ‘Caps pushing numbers forward.
Surely, this one will sting for a while. But if the last few years are any indication, the youngest team in MLS will be back and stronger than ever in 2016.
Budweiser Man of the Match: Tim Parker
Referee: Ismail Elfath