Put 'em together, and the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps are fairly easy to define: Expansion cousins, Cascadia rivals, Major League Soccer neighbors—longtime frenemies who can appreciate one another save a few 90-minute stretches per year.
But standing apart, the Timbers and Whitecaps have yet to forge identities of their own.
Is Vancouver the team that won five of their first nine MLS matches this season, posting six shutouts? Or are they the club that yielded a late goal in a draw against Seattle last week, then inexplicably dropped the final of the Canadian Championship to an abysmal Toronto side? Is Portland a group whose ship leans right with growing confidence as key contributors round into form? Or are they a team that's more often looked timid than terrifying in their sophomore year?
"I think that when you lose games in the manner that we did, it saps your self-belief at times," said Timbers coach John Spencer of his team's rough early going. "I don't think that we fear going into games or fear the last 10 minutes of games as much as we did a couple of weeks ago."
As the Timbers and Whitecaps meet tonight for the 71st time in 36 years, both sides understand the significance of this derby for the fans, and it's not as if the Timbers or Whitecaps need any extra motivation to get up for their conference/regional foes. But with a long International break looming (Portland doesn't play again until June 17, Vancouver June 10) tonight marks an opportunity for both Cascadia clubs to enter a layoff at least feeling like they're true contenders. Victory tonight could vault the Timbers into the middle of the pack out west, while a Whitecaps win could show they're more than simply improved over last year.
UPDATE: It's a 1-1 draw after Vancouver scores the equalizer in the 84th minute. Click past the jump for a minute-by-minute account, along with post-game reaction and FULL VIDEO of Spencer's post-match presser.
Vancouver—Joe Cannon in goal. Lee Young-Pyo, Martin Bonjour, Jay DeMerit and Alain Rochat on defense. Gershon Koffie, Davide Chiumiento, Jun Marques Davidson and John Torrington at midfield. Sebastian Le Toux and Camilo at forward. DeMerit is the captain and the 'Caps are sporting white shorts and white blouses.
Portland—Troy Perkins in goal. Jack Jewsbury, Hanyer Mosquera, Eric Brunner and Steven Smith on defense. Kalif Alhassan, Diego Chará and Eric Alexander at midfield. Darlington Nagbe, Kris Boyd and Jorge Perlaza at forward. It looks like the 4-3-3 Spencer tested against Valencia on Wednesday night has stuck as the Timbers try out yet another formation. Jewsbury is the Cap'n and Portland is sporting its Rose City Red kits.
PREGAME: Vancouver's fans were out in full force, chanting and filling the southwest concourse as I entered the building. Note: There was at least one crushed Kokanee can near the entrance. Litterbug hosers.
Both fans sections have sung the "Build a Bonfire" chant at separate times during pregame festivities, and I can report they'd each like to put Seattle atop said bonfire. It's nice to see they can agree on something. Portland swept their Canadian cousins last season, including a 2-1 victory at home that saw a goal in 75 seconds. This year may be different: Vancouver sits six points ahead of the Rose City in the standings.
And away we go ... Timbers working toward the south end as the sunshine has hidden behind the clouds here in Goose Hollow. Fitting for the first meeting this year between Northwest rivals.
1st minute—Nagbe picks up the match's first foul going up strong for a header. Rivalry games are typically chippy early, and this one appears to be no exception.
2nd—After a bit of Vancouver possession, Nagbe wins a second ball and takes a bit of a run up the middle, but it's taken away in the box. Nice aggression for Darlington early and he's being rewarded with some early touches.
4th—Timbers earn a throw in the 'Caps end, but after a Perlaza touch, Alhassan's attempted cross is deflected and knocked away.
5th—Collision at midfield leaves Brunner and Le Toux on the pitch. Both walk off under their own power, but it looked like heads came together. Timbers Army likely doesn't mind seeing Le Toux—a former Sounder—shaken up a bit early.
7th—Nagbe with a giveaway in the Timbers' end gives Le Toux some space in a dangerous spot, but Chará straight rips him from behind to help Portland possession. Whitecaps get it back and earn a corner as Chará is forced get back and play it over the goal line.
8th—Corner comes in and immediately leads to a Timbers counter opportunity. But Vancouver's defense snuffs it out by knocking it away from Alhassan.
10th—Chará fouls Koffie at midfield while Alhassan lays on the pitch behind the action. Ref stops play as Kalif gets back to his feet.
12th—Boyd curls his first shot from the top corner of the 18, but it's right at Cannon. Timbers pressing forward as the pace stays pretty high. At midfield, Koffie gives Alhassan a shoulder, and Kalif goes down and it'll be a Portland free kick.
14th—Nagbe and Alexander with some good possession near the top of the box and Alhassan draws a corner kick for Portland. Alhassan sends it in and Brunner attempts a header, but nothing doing.
15th—On the other end, Smith with a nice tackle at the edge of the to clear for a moment. But Vancouver earns a throw and continues to press. Not a lot of legit chances for either team in the early going, but we've got a physical tone set.
17th—Timbers a bit ragged trying to hold shape on their back line, but it's working. After Jewsbury cuts off a pass, Alhassan with a nice move on the sideline to fake out Thorrington and merit a gasp from the crowd.
20th—Whitecaps with all the possession over the past couple of minutes. Rochat gets alone in the Northwest corner and tries a cross, but it's no threat to Perkins.
21st—Perlaza with a nice run and sets up Jewsbury at the top of the box and Cap'n Jack cracks one. It's deflected over the goal line and it'll be a corner for Portland.
22nd—Alhassan sends it in and Jewsbury gets a header on it, but it's just wide right.
23rd—Thorrington picks up the first yellow card of the night after a rough tackle on Alhassan. Kalif's taken some knocks in his first match back in a number of weeks.
24th—Jewsbury with a nice ball into the box for Boyd, who tries crack a shot, but DeMerit there to clear it over the line. Corner coming for Portland.
25th—Alhassan sends it near-post and Brunner comes screaming into the pack for a header attempt, but can't quite get to it. Timbers are really trying to push the tempo as we pass the midway point of the first half.
28th—Vancouver with some possession now and they're trying to slow the pace. A game of Major League Keepaway has broken out.
29th—Timbers send a couple straight balls into the box, the first from Smith and another from Alhassan. Lots of battling in the box, especially between Boyd and DeMerit. Vancouver's captain is winning the battle thus far.
31st—After Alhassan dances along the sideline to keep a ball in bounds, Jewsbury with a great ball into the box at Perlaza gets a header on, but it's just over the cross bar. Best chance of the night for either side.
32nd—Smith and Alexander with a little give-and-go, and Smith is tripped as he goes into the box. He's calling for a foul, but the ref doesn't agree. A nice little combo for Smith and Alexander nonetheless.
34th—Timbers show some nifty passing in the box, particularly from Jewsbury, but Vancouver clears. On the other end, Chará snuffs out Vancouver run and gets it ahead to Nagbe, who chips one forward to Boyd. He tries a left-footed shot from the left corner of the box, but it's way off.
36th—Wind is starting to swirl and some awfully dark clouds are moving in from the North End. On the pitch, Jewsbury sends one into Boyd, but it's too tall. Vancouver clears, but it's right to Chará, who attempts one from the 25 yards out. It's deflected and it'll be a corner for Portland.
37th—Timbers play the corner short and Vancouver is all over it. Nagbe and Rochet collide near midfield and it looks like the Whitecap got the worst of it. He's still down and the weather has officially turned. Lightning is striking in the distance, and the wind is blowing hard and changing direction by the second, according to the flags in the Southeast corner of the stadium.
40th—We're back underway after Rochet is taken off the field. Right as we get going, Smith is given a yellow card after fouling Chiumiento.
42nd—Here comes the rain. Fans chanting "Let it rain, let it pour!" They'll get their wish, but there's likely no chant that welcomes lightning.
43rd—Chará with a steal and gets it forward to Perlaza, who has some room to roam before DeMerit with yet another great tackle. He's really keying the Vancouver defense. And now it's absolutely pouring.
45th—Vancouver with its best chance of the night as Brunner tries to cut off Young-Pyo in the box. He manages to escape and get it back to Le Toux, but his sliding shot is wide left.
Two minutes of stoppage ... It's just dumping sheets of rain—are we in the Northwest or Southeast? Timbers play one ahead and get a run by Alexander, but his pass into the box fools everyone, including his own teammates. ... Alexander gets another chance at the top of the box, but his shot is well over the cross bar.
HALFTIME: We're scoreless. The rain is torrential and lightning just flashed across the sky. The South end has been completely abandoned and this is the hardest I've seen it fall at a Timbers game in two seasons. No need to water the pitch at the break, I suppose.
There have been a couple of lightning strikes lighting up the sky, and I'm told MLS rules call for a 30-minute delay should they think ELECTRICITY SHOOTING FROM THE SKY might be a danger to fans. As I type this, however, the skies seem to be breaking up a bit over the North end. Maybe even a little rainbow forming. We'll see.
Some halftime stats: Portland out-shot Vancouver 8-1 and the Timbers took four corners to the Whitecaps' four. Vancouver won 54% of the duels, but Portland won the possession battle (for the first time I remember seeing this season) with 53%.
Word just came to the press box: Due to inclement weather, we're delayed until 8:35. It was just announced to the crowd, which let out groans/boos until another lightning strike brought cheers. Now Timbers Army is chanting "Let it rain, let it pour, let the Portland Timbers score!"
Players are back on the field now, warming up with cones.
And we're back at it after a 40+ minute halftime... Lone sub for Portland at the half: David Horst enters for Brunner. The rain has cleared and the clouds are starting to open up. Will the offense?
46th—Vancouver with a giveaway at midfield and Jewsbury takes a shot, but it's deflected over the goal line. Corner comes in from the Northeast corner, but it's out of play.
48th—Alhassan loses it at midfield and Portland returns the favor. Alexander tries to play it toward the middle to Boyd, but he can't get a good touch on it.
49th—Alhassan with a steal at midfield and tries to find Boyd. He touches it back to Perlaza, who fires a right-footed shot that skips slowly wide left of the goal. No worries for Cannon there.
50th—Jewsbury with a great ball along the east sideline for Perlaza, who flips it into Nagbe for a volley. He gets a piece of it, but it's over the goal. Decent chance there. Portland creating some nice chances early through Perlaza.
52nd—Camilo tries to get sneaky and earn a corner by deflecting it off Mosquera, but the veteran Timbers defender isn't having any of it.
54th—Chará fouls Koffie just outside the 18-yard box and it'll be a free kick in a very dangerous spot for Vancouver.
55th—Rochat fires one but it's well high over the wall and the goal. Timbers dodge a bullet with a poor free-kick attempt from Vancouver. Fans chanting "That was so shitty it was unbelievable!" Can't say I disagree. Davidson ushered off the pitch after Boyd catches him in the face with a flailing arm. Might have knocked out a contact lens.
57th—Timbers withstand a Vancouver corner kick and get an unfortunate call after Horst heads one over the goal line. Free kick coming for Portland.
58th—Bounding ball in the fox finds Le Toux, who turns and fires a shot off Mosquera's foot. It deflects on-goal, but Perkins is there to knock it away. Corner kick sent in and nabbed by a leaping Perkins. Vancouver picking things up.
60th—Horst plays one long to Boyd in the far corner, but DeMerit there to tackle it away. Jewsbury ends up with it and whips one in, but nobody in red reacts to it.
61st—Some nice passing in the attacking half for Portland, but Chiumiento takes it away from Perlaza and snuffs out the Timbers' budding offensive momentum.
63rd—Chará with a tackle on Camilo inside of midfield and it's a foul on Diego. Vancouver free kick sent into the box, but Mosquera is there to head it way.
64th—Boyd with a nice ball into the box Perlaza, who fires from a tough angle. Cannon is there for a diving save and Vancouver clears it over the west sideline. Throw comes and Alhassan is taken down in the box without a whistle. Timbers get a corner kick and Alhassan again lines up a shot, but it's immediately deflected and cleared. Portland really imposing its will on Vancouver and keeping possession in the North end. Cannon is putting in some work so far this half.
66th—Free kick coming for Portland. Alhassan lining it up from 25 yards out and sends it in, but Cannon punches it away before Horst can get a header on it.
67th—TIMBERS GOAL It's Boyd, set up an Alhassan steal deep in Vancouver's end and wonderful service from Jewsbury. Cap'n Jack sends it lofting in toward goal and Cannon gets a hand on it, but Boyd is there to volley it right-footed into the net. Timbers lead, 1-0.
69th—Timbers are rolling now. Two straight opportunities as smoke fills the North End. Alhassan can't manage a clear shot on the first, and Perlaza makes a nice run but has it knocked away as he gets into the six-yard box. Torrid pace.
71st—Smith is fouled about 40 yards out and it'll be a free kick for Portland. Alhassan sends it in, and it's no problem for Vancouver.
72nd—On the counter, Koffie fires a shot, but Perkins is there to go down a grab it. On the counter, Boyd again gets a shot, left-footed from just outside the box, but it's wide of the far post. For Vancouver, Eric Hassli enters for Koffie.
74th—Alhassan with a poor decision to chest one down deep in own end instead of clearing it. Camilo is there and fires a shot, but it's just wide right of Perkins. Very fortunate for Portland there and Kalif is hearing it from his teammates.
77th—Vancouver with some possession in Portland's end, but the Timbers defense hangs in there. Smith with a couple of nice plays to help keep the Whitecap offense at bay.
78th—Perlaza fouled at midfield and it'll be a free kick for Portland. They'll also make a sub—Sal Zizzo enters for Alhassan.
80th—On the restart, Boyd feigns a shot to the head and the Timbers get a throw-in. Jewsbury throws it in for Boyd who attempts a volley, but Cannon is there to gather it in.
82nd—Some nice passing by Portland again in Vancouver's end, but again the Whitecaps D stays calm and collected. On the other end, Darren Mattocks enters for Camilo.
83rd—Lofting ball played into the box and Perkins can't find the handle. He dives on it, though, and fans hold their breath a bit before they break into "You are my sunshine."
84th—VANCOUVER GOAL Mattocks makes an immediate impact. He chests one down in the box to get possession and fires one past Perkins. Too easy for Mattocks, who scores his MLS goal. We're tied at 1.
86th—Mosquera fouls Mattocks at midfield and it's a free kick for Portland. They play it forward and Boyd immediately tries to spring Perlaza up the middle. He's tripped up and it'll be free kick for Portland about 40 yards out.
87th—Mike Fucito will enter, but not before Jewsbury curls in a free kick. It's right at Cannon. Fucito enters for Perlaza.
89th—Things have stalled a bit with back-to-back whistles. Fucito making his presence known with a hustle play to stall a Vancouver break.
90th—Zizzo with a nice run into the box and drops back to Smith. He curls one in toward Boyd, but he can't get a header on it. Mattocks and Horst collide at midfield, and it's a yellow card on Mattocks. Mosquera is laying down the east sideline and limping badly as he gets up.
Two minutes of stoppage ... Timbers nearly get one as Smith lofts one in toward the far post, but Cannon with just enough of it to tip it over the crossbar. Another Portland corner sent in by Jewsbury and DeMerit sends it back over his goal, but he's fouled and it'll be a goal kick for Vancouver. ... Fucito with a hustle play to get Portland a throw deep in the Vancouver end. Alexander tries a shot from distance, but it's easy pickings for Cannon.
FULL TIME: It's a 1-1 draw. Timbers miss a big opportunity for three points by giving up yet another late goal. They're doing that standing-stunned-at-midfield thing again. Timbers Army showing them some love in spite of it all.
Back from the locker room, and it appears the officials are again at the center of Portland's ire. Spencer said he was "absolutely astonished" Kalif Alhassan wasn't given a PK when he was taken down in the box in the 64th minute, but called giving up another late goal "not a massive problem."
Hmm... according to stat guru Mike Donovan, in the final 20 minutes of MLS matches played at Jeld-Wen Field, the Timbers have scored four goals, while opponents have netted 18 goals.
Massive problem? Maybe not "massive." But it's a problem.
Still, Portland was the best team on the pitch and should've come out victorious, Spencer argued, and the stats seem to back him up. The Timbers out-shot the 'Caps 14-6 and had seven corners to their opponents' four. Vancouver won 57% of the duels, but Portland completed nearly 80% of its passes and maintained 50.2% possession, which is big for a team that's had trouble possessing in long stretches all season.
"I think it was our best performance of the year," Spencer said. "Very disappointed not to get the three points, but through no fault of the players on that."
So who's he disappointed in? You guessed it. "I'm very disappointed in one person that cost us the three points," Spencer said, referring to referee Jorge Gonzalez. "No disappointment toward the way we played. I thought the players were tremendous, they did everything and more that was asked of them."
"I think the fans walked away disappointed but probably entertained because I think we played some of our best football of the year."