By Simon Fudge/whitecapsfc.com
Vancouver Whitecaps FC completed their preseason schedule of friendly matches with a 1-1 draw versus USL First Division rivals Portland Timbers on Friday afternoon.
Wesley Charles' first-ever goal since joining the Whitecaps last July looked to have Teitur Thordarson's side on course for a sixth victory this preseason. However, the Timbers earned themselves a draw when Swedish midfielder Johan Claesson struck late on for the Oregon-based outfit at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex.
In their ninth and final friendly match of preseason, Thordarson gave a start to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines international centre back Charles, who returned to the squad this week after spending time in the Republic of Ireland tending to personal matters. He partnered new signing Jeff Parke in the centre of the Whitecaps backline, while Luca Bellisomo came into the line-up at right fullback. Mason Trafford played alongside captain Martin Nash in the centre of midfield, while the imposing pair of Charles Gbeke and Marlon James led Vancouver's attack against their Pacific Northwest rivals.
The sunny conditions attracted a decent, yet small, crowd to Burnaby Lake West Field #5 on Friday, with both The Vancouver Southsiders and Timbers Army having representatives of their respective supporters groups on hand to view the afternoon proceedings.
Playing in their dark blue training gear, the Whitecaps had the first chance of the match through a Nash free kick on seven minutes, but the Canadian international's effort did not test new Timbers goalkeeper Steve Cronin.
The home side then created a better goalscoring chance on 18 minutes, but Gbeke missed the target with his far-post header after winger Ansu Toure played in a dangerous cross from the left-hand side. Two minutes later, Cronin was then called into action when he saved Vicente Arze's cross in the Portland box.
The first-half chances were not restricted to the Portland end, however, as Gavin Wilkinson's new-look side tested the Whitecaps rearguard. On 31 minutes, former Atlanta Silverbacks defender David Hayes found fellow new signing Mandjou Keita with his cross from the left. Though in plenty of space, the Guinea international headed his chance well wide of Jay Nolly's goal. The Whitecaps number one then needed to be alert to stop Japanese striker Takayuki Suzuki from scoring a minute later.
The Whitecaps then hit the post on 34 minutes after Vancouver were awarded a free kick near the edge of the Timbers box after Arze had been fouled. Toure forced Cronin into a fine save from his left-footed set piece, and on the rebound, Gbeke was unfortunate to strike the post from close range. Two minutes later, Gbeke's first-time shot was well saved by the former Los Angeles Galaxy keeper after Arze had picked out the big striker in the Timbers box.
On 38 minutes, Nolly was called on to make a very good stop from Suzuki, with the former D.C. United keeper able to hold on to the loose ball after colliding with a charging Keita in the Whitecaps box. Three minutes later, Cronin made the last notable save of the half from Trafford's low drive on target.
There was a moment of concern for Thordarson's side on 42 minutes, as Parke suffered a blow to the head after being caught in a melee for the ball near the edge of the Whitecaps box. Marco Reda would replace the former New York Red Bulls defender for the start of the second half after both sides went the break deadlocked at 0-0.
After creating some decent chances against the wind in the first half, the Whitecaps struggled to build on those efforts in the second 45 minutes. In fact, it was the Timbers that caused the Whitecaps some concerns soon after the restart.
On 50 minutes, Claesson hit the woodwork with a shot from a tight angle before Keita headed new Timbers signing Takuro Nishimura's cross wide of the target at the far post. At the midway point of the half, Hayes struck a dangerous shot wide of Nolly's goal after Reda had given the ball away near the Whitecaps byline.
It was Vancouver that took the lead through Charles on 68 minutes. The centre back struck home on the rebound after Gbeke had his initial shot blocked in the Portland box before Reda forced an unorthodox save from Cronin, as the Timbers keeper blocked the substitute's goal-bound strike with his face. The ball fell kindly for Charles to convert from the edge of the box for 1-0.
Though a goal down, Portland kept pressing forward and created a decent chance through midfielder Alex Nimo, but the on-loan Real Salt Lake player powered his strike over Nolly's crossbar following a Timbers corner on 75 minutes.
Undeterred, the visitors claimed a stalemate seven minutes later. Nishimura's cross from the right allowed Claesson to head the ball past Nolly and secure a 1-1 result for Portland.
After the match, Charles admitted to being impressed with Portland's squad for the coming campaign. "Compared to last year, they are already a different looking team," he told whitecapsfc.com. "They also look to be playing a different system as well. It looks like Portland will be tough opposition this year, but we have to concentrate on ourselves. When we play this season, we must try and focus on things one game at a time."
Thordarson, meanwhile, will be looking for attacking improvement after being left disappointed by his team's forward play on Friday. "I was not happy with the game today," he said after the match. "Though I thought we were good defensively, we were not as good offensively. We didn’t connect as well as I was hoping in Portland's attacking third, especially in the second half. It was disappointing, but these are just things we need to work on, so we will do that next week."
Vancouver completed their preseason of friendly matches with a record of five wins, two defeats, and two draws. The Whitecaps will now prepare for their USL-1 season opener on Saturday, April 11, when they host Charleston Battery at Swangard Stadium. Their next meeting with the Timbers will also be at Swangard, as the first league clash between the two Pacific Northwest rivals takes place on Saturday, April 25.
68' - 1-0 VAN - Wesley Charles (Marco Reda)
82' - 1-1 POR - Johan Claesson (Takuro Nishimura)
POR - Stephen Keel 10'
VAN - Gordon Chin 78'
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
1.Jay Nolly; 22.Takashi Hirano, 6.Wesley Charles, 27.Jeff Parke (2.Marco Reda 46'), 3.Luca Bellisomo (8.Wes Knight 85'); 16.Ansu Toure (32.Gordon Chin 71'), 7.Martin Nash, 18.Mason Trafford, 23.Vicente Arze (25.Tyrell Burgess 54'); 98.Charles Gbeke, 9.Marlon James (14.Marcus Haber 71')
0.Steve Cronin; 5.David Hayes, 16.Stephen Keel (6.Cameron Knowles 46'), 28.Manadou Danso, 20.Takuro Nishimura; 23.Ryan Pore (14.Jason McLaughlin 67'), 11.Johan Claesson, 12.Tony McManus (22.Keith Savage 60'), 18.Alex Nimo (13.Josh Cameron 89'); 10.Mandjou Keita (9.Antou Jallow 68'), 30.Takayuki Suzuki (19.George Josten 46')