By John Atkinson
The Timbers will have to come from behind to reach their first United Soccer Leagues First Division final, after a Marcus Haber header earned Vancouver a 2-1 victory in the playoff semifinal first leg.
Gavin Wilkinson's side looked good for a tie after Ryan Pore's late first-half penalty canceled out Charles Gbeke's opener. However, Haber regained the initiative for the Whitecaps just after the half, and this time Portland was unable to respond.
Despite heavy rain earlier in the day, Vancouver's Swangard Stadium was in excellent condition and it was the home side who almost took early advantage.
Gbeke fed Martin Nash on the left side of the penalty area and his cross fell invitingly for Luca Bellisomo who could not convert.
The Timbers started to find their feet after that, and went close in the 13th minute. George Josten skillfully controlled and then laid off a Brian Farber cross, but recipient Tony McManus could only shoot straight at Jay Nolly.
Two minutes later, Josten picked up possession in midfield and created space for a shot with a strong attacking run; unfortunately his 25-yarder had a little too much juice and flew over.
Having weathered that spell, the pendulum swung back Vancouver's way midway through the first half. Haber glanced a header from Ansu Toure's curling cross inches wide in the 23rd minute and Gbeke then went one better. Takashi Hirano assisted and the Whitecaps striker's header bounced in off the underside of the crossbar.
Portland rode its luck, with Haber and Toure both spurning further opportunities, but was handed the chance to restore parity in the 43rd minute. Farber's shot was judged to have been handled by defender Lyle Martin and Pore made no mistake from the spot, sending Nolly the wrong way.
To rub salt into Vancouver's wound, Marco Reda was red-carded from the substitutes bench in first-half added time.
The heavens opened during halftime, adding to the home fans' tears of frustration -- but within four minutes of the restart their spirits were restored, when Portland's defense was caught napping.
Gbeke delivered a searching cross from the right and Haber rose powerfully to thrust home a header which bounced in off the foot of the near post.
Pore and Mandjou Keita both had chances to draw Portland level a second time just before the hour mark, the former having his shot blocked, the latter curving his shot wide from a good position.
But Portland was also fortunate the deficit they have to overturn on Sunday is only one, with goalkeeper Steve Cronin twice coming to its rescue in the second half with fine saves from Whitecaps substitutes Marlon James and Nizar Khalfan.