Nash smash curls 'Caps right into playoff final - Vancouver Sun

Team captain provided the dash, right on time

By Ian Walker

It was a thing of beauty. A curling, left-foot shot from 25 yards out that quieted the loud, large and passionate Portland Timbers crowd. Oh yeah, Martin Nash's right-footed set piece into the right-hand corner on Sunday wasn't too shabby, either.

"I think the first one was better, but I'll take today's any day," said Nash, following the Vancouver Whitecaps' 5-4 aggregate-goal victory over their Northwest rival at PGE Park. "A goal's a goal and I'm lucky to have got one."

While Nash's goal of two seasons ago may have been better stylistically, his game-tying penalty-kick marker of two days ago gets the nod in terms of importance. Not only did it tie the game at 2-2, but changed the ebb and flow of the critical matchup as the Whitecaps went on to take the lead on Marlon James's goalmouth scramble less than five minutes later. A late Portland goal tied the game again, but the 3-3 draw was enough to advance Vancouver to its second straight United Soccer Leagues First Division championship and third in four seasons.

"Just to pull that out in a moment like this, when we really needed it, it was great," said Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson, whose team will face the Montreal Impact next. "As I've said so many times before, tactically Nash is so good, he keeps the team together. Then he has a goal like [that] that's very spectacular, he's huge for us."

Not bad considering Nash missed the final five games of the regular season with a groin injury. You'd never have guessed it on his seeing-eye blast over the out-stretched hands of goalkeeper Steve Cronin in the 66th minute.

Oddly enough, the Whitecaps captain scored an eerily similar goal in training earlier in the week.

"He hit one at practice and everyone was like 'there you go,' " said goalkeeper Jay Nolly. "It was great for him to step up and do it. It was perfect timing."

The two-game aggregate-goal all-Canadian final opens at Swangard Stadium on Saturday. The second leg will be played in Montreal at a date yet to be confirmed.

iwalker@vancouversun.com

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