In their first match on Bell Pitch downtown at BC Place, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (4W-16L-10D) went down to a 1-0 defeat versus Pacific Northwest rivals Portland Timbers (11W-13L-7D) on Sunday afternoon.
A first-half strike by Portland's Kenny Cooper was the difference between the two MLS expansion clubs, with their second away victory of the season keeping the City of Roses outfit in the hunt for an MLS Cup Playoff spot in their inaugural year in the league. Though they had a good amount of possession, Whitecaps FC were unable to break down Portland's defensive rearguard and complete a memorable first day back in their newly refurbished home.
Defeat for Whitecaps FC sees their winless run in MLS extend to four matches in what was the club's 41st game in the downtown Vancouver stadium since the North American Soccer League season of 1983. The 'Caps also finish third in the three-club Cascadia Cup standings with one point from four Pacific Northwest derby matches played (0W-3L-1D), while the Timbers finish second with seven points from four matches played (2W-1L-1D). Seattle Sounders FC claimed the 2011 Cascadia Cup title with eight points from four games played (2W-0L-2D).
"You come away frustrated and disappointed," said Whitecaps FC head coach Tom Soehn. "I didn’t think we had the best of energy in the first half and it’s hard to explain when you look at this venue and the excitement. You don’t get too many opportunities to open up a new stadium of this quality, especially against a rival."
Soehn made three changes to the line-up that faced Seattle in the club's Empire Field finale last weekend. Two of those changes came in the backline, with Alain Rochat returning from suspension to play at centre back in place of New Zealand international Michael Boxall, while Jeb Brovsky replaced the injured Jonathan Leathers at right fullback. 'Budweiser Man of the Match' Shea Salinas started on the right-hand side of midfield in place of striker Mustapha Jarju.
With the new retractable roof opened minutes before kickoff and plenty of excitement among a sold-out crowd of 21,000, Sunday's derby clash was a closely fought encounter decided by a Portland attacking move midway through the opening 45 minutes.
With their postseason hopes in the balance, the visiting Timbers made a bright start, despite being without two key players in captain Jack Jewsbury and midfielder Kalif Alhassan through suspension. James Marcelin had a couple of opportunities inside the first ten minutes for Portland, while Mike Chabala forced a routine save out of Whitecaps FC goalkeeper Joe Cannon with free-kick strike. Vancouver's response came from midfielders Salinas and Gershon Koffie, but both were off-target with strikes on 16 and 22 minutes respectively.
The first MLS goal to be scored on Bell Pitch downtown came on 25 minutes, and it was Portland that recorded the goal. A 'Caps turnover led to a Timbers counter-attack, with Colombian midfielder Diego Chara finding an unmarked Cooper wide on the left near the edge of the Vancouver box. The big striker took a touch before striking a half volley past Cannon and into the top corner of the goal for his seventh goal of the season.
It was a disappointing way for the home side to concede on their return home to BC Place, but the goal did spark Whitecaps FC into creating a set of chances. Camilo had a decent shot tipped over the Portland crossbar by Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins on 32 minutes, while Chiumiento hit the side-netting with his first chance two minutes later. It meant the Timbers took their slender one-goal lead into the halftime break.
An improvement in performance was required from Whitecaps FC to turn this derby contest around in the second half, but the second 45 minutes brought more frustration, as Vancouver could not find the opening they desired to level matters.
There was more disappointment for the home side on 53 minutes, as striker Eric Hassli was booked by match referee Mark Geiger following a challenge on Timbers centre back Mamadou Danso. It was the Frenchman's eighth booking of the season, which means he will be suspended for Thursday's rescheduled home match with Real Salt Lake.
With the Timbers seemingly content to protect their slim advantage, the impetus was on the 'Caps to find their way back into the game. Substitute John Thorrington had a couple of half-chances for the Blue and White, while Salinas forced an assured save from Perkins with a solid shot on target. In fact, the best chance of the second half fell to goalcorer Cooper at the other end, but Cannon did well to deny the former FC Dallas striker in his six-yard box on 59 minutes.
As time wound down, Camilo, Hassli, and substitute Long Tan tried to be Vancouver's difference makers with opportunities in the dying stages. However, Perkins was not tested on each of those three occasions. Though four minutes of time added on were played, Whitecaps FC could not create the opening they seeked in the club's new era on Bell Pitch downtown at BC Place.
Whitecaps FC will have a short turnaround from Sunday's game, as they host MLS Western Conference rivals Real Salt Lake in their rescheduled home match on Thursday night. Portland, meanwhile, will now take an extended break before hosting Eastern Conference side Houston Dynamo on Friday, October 14.
25' - POR - Kenny Cooper (Diego Chara)
Shots: Vancouver 12 - Portland 8
Shots on Goal: Vancouver 2 - Portland 6
Saves: Vancouver 3 - Portland 2
Fouls: Vancouver 17 - Portland 12
Offsides: Vancouver 1 - Portland 3
Corners: Vancouver 5 - Portland 2
42' - POR - Diego Chara
53' - VAN - Eric Hassli
63' - POR - Mike Chabala
65' - POR - James Marcelin
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
1.Joe Cannon, 12.Jeb Brovsky, 6.Jay DeMerit, 4.Alain Rochat, 26.Jordan Harvey; 22.Shea Salinas (23.Long Tan 80'), 28.Gershon Koffie, 8.Peter Vagenas (11.John Thorrington 57'), 37.Camilo; 20.Davide Chiumiento (7.Mustapha Jarju 68'), 29.Eric Hassli
Subs not used: 18.Jay Nolly, 2.Michael Boxall, 13.Michael Nanchoff, 15.Philippe Davies
1.Troy Perkins; 30.Lovel Palmer, 98.Mamadou Danso, 5.Eric Brunner, 4.Mike Chabala; 7.Sal Zizzo, 21.Diego Chara, 14.James Marcelin, 6.Darlinton Nagbe; 15.Jorge Perlaza (17.Eric Alexander 66'), 33.Kenny Cooper (9.Bright Dike 85')
Subs not used: 20.Jake Gleeson, 8.Peter Lowry, 12.David Horst, 22.Rodney Wallace, 26.Brian Umony
Budweiser Man of the Match: Shea Salinas