From the get-go, it was clear that Sunday afternoon's Cascadia Cup clash at Providence Park between the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps was pulsating with the kind of manic energy that only a rivalry can produce.
Portland thrived on it. Vancouver, to put it lightly, didn't.
The result for the Timbers, who, when it was all said and done, snapped a three-game losing streak with a resounding 4-2 win, was a hell of a good time.
There were first half goals for Diego Valeri and Jack McInerney, a virtuoso performance from Darlington Nagbe, and a Dairon Asprilla renaissance that was as unexpected as it was successful. Add in absolute meltdowns from Pa Modou Kah and Kendall Waston, and it was a gluttony of good times for a Timbers crowd that has had few reasons to smile this season.
Just two minutes into the game, Kah struck. The big center-back swung and missed on a pass across his body, and, in familiar fashion, compounded his mistake by needlessly knifing down the onrushing McInerney on the edge of the area for a penalty.
With Fanendo Adi out of action due to an injury suffered last weekend, it was Valeri who stepped up and cannoned the spot-kick past David Ousted to give the Timbers a 1-0 lead.
Twenty-five minutes later, it was Kah's center-back partner Kendall Waston's turn to implode. Lucas Melano ran onto a slipped ball from Ben Zemanski but flubbed his cross — only to see Waston lose his footing, tumble to the ground, and get beaten by the ever-aware McInerney for 2-0.
Vancouver pulled a goal back at the beginning of the second half with the help of several deflections, but the Timbers got a lift just minutes later when Dairon Asprilla, a healthy scratch in three straight games, replaced Melano.
It's exceedingly rare in soccer to see a player — especially if that player isn't a star — get frozen out of the team due to an attitude problem and ever return. Bringing Asprilla "out of the doghouse," as Caleb Porter would term if afterwards, was the kind of move a championship team makes.
And thanks to Timbers legend Kah, there would be more to Asprilla's return than it's having happened at all. The Vancouver center-back handled a deflected Valeri cross, and Ted Unkel pointed to the spot.
Valeri, showing both his leadership chops and his heart of gold, proffered the ball to Asprilla — and Asprilla, who, if nothing else, can lash a soccer ball, thundered his penalty into the corner to make it 3-1. It was, in a happy twist, the Colombian's first-ever goal in front of the Timbers Army.
Ten minutes later, it was Nagbe's moment. The attacker, playing his last game for the Timbers before jetting off to the US' Copa America preparations, both deserved and badly wanted a goal — and it was his eighth shot that told: a sizzling free-kick that left Ousted flailing to put the game out of sight.
Unkel handed a makeup penalty to Vancouver just a minute later which Pedro Morales dispatched, but that show of kindness did little to sooth a Whitecaps unit that was quickly unraveling — a process that would have serious implications when Waston finally snapped.
Some four seconds after the final whistle, the Costa Rican international gift-wrapped one of the sweetest chapters in the history of this rivalry for the Timbers by lunging at Asprilla from behind like banshee and getting sent off. He needn't have been so kind.
Waston remonstrated after the game that he hadn't heard the whistle, and was going for the ball. But his manager, the reliably clear-headed Carl Robinson, pulled no punches — telling reporters that his star center-back "needs to show more emotional control." Waston will have plenty of time to reflect on those words. He likely won't play again for the 'Caps until July.
But for all of Vancouver's shenanigans, it was the trio of Nagbe, Valeri, and — get this — McInerney, who ran the show. With Adi out, the three needed to be both specially and technically excellent to create enough space for Portland's attack to thrive. They did the job superbly.
Nagbe had his best game of the season, and Valeri is a bonafide wizard, but it's hard to say enough about the breadth of good work that McInerney did.
Given the state of Vancouver's center-backs, it wasn't at all surprising that the Chattanooga native bagged a goal. But McInerney did much more than poach. Instead, he was glue all over the field — popping up on the wing, in midfield, and even covering for Jermaine Taylor at left-back. It was an exceedingly adept performance from a player who clearly can do a lot more than score goals.
Unconfined positionally, the Timbers' attacking players enjoyed themselves. Behind them, it was a banner day for Ben Zemanski. Finally healthy and playing, the former Akron star complimented his trademark defensive doggedness with plenty of poise and rhythm in possession.
It was a good day all around. Portland still hasn't kept a clean-sheet, but this was a solid — albeit slightly unlucky — defensive performance. Compared to Vancouver's display on the other end of the field, it was saintly.
After two tough weeks — the losses, the injuries, the disappearance of Asprilla, the Timbers Army controversy — Portland won this game with a vengeance. It was the first time since that unforgettable day in Los Angeles last October that four different Timbers players all scored in the same game.
What's more, as we all know, there's no party like a Pa Kah party. It was, for the Timbers on Sunday, a most enjoyable perfect storm.