In the build-up to Saturday’s Cascadia derby, Carl Robinson said there would be “no excuses” from his team despite fielding a young and depleted side.
Turns out they didn’t need any.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC (10W-8L-3D) put in a gutsy road performance and came away with a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Portland Timbers (9W-7L-5D) on Saturday night at Providence Park.
After going down 1-0 in the 33rd minute, Matias Laba scored his first MLS regular season goal for Whitecaps FC early in the second half to help the visitors secure an important road point on a night they were reduced to 10 men in stoppage time.
As a result, Whitecaps FC maintain a one-point lead over the Timbers in the hotly contested Western Conference. The ‘Caps conclude the season series undefeated (1W-0L-2D) against Portland, who had won five straight games at home coming into Saturday’s contest.
Robinson made a pair of changes to his starting lineup after last weekend’s loss to SKC. With Kendall Waston away with Costa Rica at the Gold Cup and Pa-Modou Kah (calf) sidelined due to injury, Christian Dean got the nod at centre back for the first time this season.
Dean partnered in the middle with fellow 22-year-old MLS SuperDraft selection Tim Parker – forming an all-American back line with fullbacks Steven Beitashour and Jordan Harvey.
Robinson also inserted Uruguayan midfielder Nicolas Mezquida in place of countrymate Cristian Techera, moving Mauro Rosales back to the right wing. Meanwhile, captain Pedro Morales (calf) missed his fifth straight match.
It was a young ‘Caps side, but they didn’t look overmatched by any means.
Vancouver came out on the front foot and looked the more likely side to score early. Kekuta Manneh had two fantastic chances in the opening half hour. The first was saved by Timbers goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey and the second was cleared off the line by a sliding Nat Borchers after a lovely build-up.
Portland also had a few half-chances in the first half and they eventually opened the scoring in the 33rd minute. After a turnover in midfield, Fanendo Adi played in Diego Valeri and the Argentine beat David Ousted at the near post to put Portland ahead 1-0.
The ‘Caps nearly manufactured an immediate response, but Kwarasey came up big again – this time on Octavio Rivero after the Uruguayan played a nice one-two with Mezquida.
Whitecaps FC outshot the Timbers 11-6 in an entertaining opening 45 minutes, but entered the break down a goal.
There wasn’t much happening early in the second half – until the 57th minute, that is.
The unlikeliest of heroes leveled the game for Vancouver just before the hour mark, as Laba found the back of the net with a seeing-eye strike from distance. It was the Argentine’s first goal for Whitecaps FC in MLS regular season action and he celebrated it by running the distance of the pitch in the direction of the ‘Caps supporters’ section.
The Timbers had a few late chances, but the 10-men ‘Caps held on to secure the draw after Jordan Harvey was sent off for a late tackle in stoppage time.
Portland’s Will Johnson was also shown a red card moments after the final whistle. The Timbers captain picked up a pair of yellows for “unsporting behavior” and “foul and abusive language.”
The ‘Caps return to BC Place next Sunday to host San Jose Earthquakes (4 p.m. – tickets still available). They will then play back-to-back matches against Cascadia rival Seattle Sounders FC, including the club’s first-ever CONCACAF Champions League match on August 5 at BC Place.
Budweiser Man of the Match: Matias Laba
Referee: Juan Guzman