Timbers defeated 2-0 by Whitecaps in playoff opener

BURNABY, B.C. – Midfielders Gershon Koffie and Martin Nash each scored in the first 13 minutes of the match as the Vancouver Whitecaps downed the Portland Timbers 2-0 in the opening match of their USSF D-2 Pro League first round playoff series at Swangard Stadium on Thursday evening.

Down by two goals in the two-game, aggregate-goal series, the Timbers play host to the decisive Game 2 against the Whitecaps on Sunday at Merlo Field on the University of Portland campus; kickoff is set for 6 p.m. The team with the most goals scored in the series between Northwest rivals will advance to the semifinals.

The Whitecaps jumped on the board early, as Koffie broke through in the first minute off a corner kick. A foul called on Portland’s Kalif Alhassan in the box 12 minutes in set up Nash’s goal on a penalty kick attempt in the 13th minute. The Timbers were able to work their way into the match, but two key saves by Vancouver goalkeeper Jay Nolly in the second half kept the Timbers from trimming the lead. Portland escaped two near goals by the Whitecaps, as shots by midfielders Terry Dunfield and Philippe Davies each hit the post.

Koffie scored his first goal of the season, Nash tallied his team-leading fifth goal of the season and Nolly finished with four saves on the night to help the Whitecaps to the series lead and their first win at home since July 14.

Forward Bright Dike recorded four shots, goalkeeper Steve Cronin made three second-half saves and three different defenders attempted a shot for the Timbers, who had a 10-game unbeaten streak come to an end in the loss – their first since Aug. 4.

Vancouver claimed a 1-0 lead less than 60 seconds into the contest. An in-swinging corner kick by Davies was contested by a pair of players inside the box and the ball was deflected out to Koffie on the back side. With space less than 15 yards out, Koffie hit a shot just under the crossbar to give Vancouver the early advantage in the series.

A foul by the Timbers set up a dangerous free kick opportunity for the Whitecaps just 11 minutes later, which led to the club’s second goal of the night. Over a five-man wall, the Whitecaps' Davies sent the ball off the near post. Fighting for the rebound, Alhassan was called for a foul on Vancouver midfielder Blake Wagner inside the box and the referee pointed to the spot for a penalty kick attempt. A veteran, Nash stepped up and powered a shot inside the low right corner of the goal. Cronin appeared to get his hands to the ball, but it found its way into the back of the net for a 2-0 lead.

The Whitecaps pushed the tempo on the attack from the opening whistle, forcing the Timbers back on their heels early, and jumped out to a two-goal lead in the first 13 minutes of the match. Davies forced Cronin into a key save in the first few minutes, knocking the ball off the left post. Cronin was able to smother the rebound, ending another close chance on goal.

Down 2-0, the Timbers battled their way back in into the match and out-shot the Whitecaps 5-4 in the first half. Set pieces by defender Ian Joy provided two close chances for Portland in the opening period. In the 18th minute, a restart from the right side nearly found defender Steve Purdy streaking down the left post. Nolly was able to pluck the ball from the air to end the threat. Nolly then used an out-stretched fist to punch away a corner kick by Joy falling right in front of goal in the 33rd minute.

Portland midfielder James Marcelin cracked a shot from distance in the 20th minute that just missed the top right corner of the goal.

The Whitecaps nearly added a third goal to their lead in the 40th minute. On a counter, the Whitecaps had control of the ball across the top of the box. Forward Cody Arnoux laid the ball off to Dunfield running down the right side. He hit a shot from the top of the box off the base of the right post.

The pace of the match slowed down in the second half, but the physical nature of Portland-Vancouver matches remained. Early in the second half, Timbers forward Doug DeMartin was knocked down from behind in the defensive third, but play continued. Nash controlled the ball before ripping a shot from 25 yards out at the left post. Cronin made a diving save off his line to push the ball wide.

The Timbers continued to scrap in the second half. In the opening minute of the period, Dike and midfielder Ryan Pore worked the ball up field on a quick run, but Dike’s shot missed wide of the mark. In the 64th minute, Dike received the ball at his feet inside the box and was able to turn his defender. From the right side, Dike hammered a low shot on frame from eight yards, but Nolly was able to deny the effort with a kick save.

Portland had a handful of chances around the hour mark. Pore was fouled just outside the arch at the top of the box. On the free-kick, second-half sub Rodrigo Lopez sliced the ball just over the crossbar. On another restart from midfield, the Whitecaps nearly put an own goal on the board for the Timbers as defender Willis Forko’s header back was tipped over the bar by Nolly. The Timbers nearly matched the Whitecaps in shots in the match 10-11.

Aside from a long chip shot by Koffie in 56th minute, the Timbers limited the Whitecaps’ chances for most of the second half. The home side gained momentum late when an open look nearly led to a third goal on the night.

In the 80th minute, the Whitecaps gained the advantage deep in the Timbers box as midfielder Kyle Porter and Davies worked the ball in. Porter had the ball on the left post and pulled Cronin off his line. As the goalkeeper charged, Porter passed the ball wide to Davies alone in space 10 yards out. Davies laid a rolling shot off the right post.

Amongst the series of chances late for the Whitecaps, the Timbers had an opportunity to cut the deficit in the match and in the aggregate-goal series in half in the 84th minute. A corner kick from the right side deflected down to the near post. Defender Kevin Goldthwaite, who came on after halftime, poked a shot from the doorstep on goal, but Nolly made his second key stop of the half to keep the Timbers off the board.

Tickets for Sunday’s playoff match between the Timbers and Whitecaps at Merlo Field are $15 and are available for purchase at local Ticketmaster outlets, online at www.ticketmaster.com or by phoning (800), 745-3000. For information on three-game playoff strips, contact the Timbers ticket office at (503) 553-5555 or visit www.portlandtimbers.com.

Notes: The first-round series between Portland and Vancouver marks the fourth time the two sides have met in the postseason … The Timbers have were last shutout Sept. 11 in a 0-0 draw on the road against the Carolina RailHawks … In the four series-opening matches in the first round of the USSF D-2 Pro League playoffs, the home team won three of them ... The Timbers suffered their first loss of the season to the Whitecaps, after posting a 2-0-2 record against their Northwest rival during the regular season.

Lineups:
POR: GK Cronin, D Joy, D Smith (Goldthwaite, 45), D Keel, D Purdy, M Pore, M Marcelin (McManus, 80), M Claesson (Lopez, 45), M Alhassan (Suzuki, 85), F Dike, F DeMartin (Muhamadu, 74)

VAN: GK Nolly, D Forko, D Bellisomo, D Janicki, D Knight (Gage, 73), M Wagner (Tsiskaridze, 89), M Koffie, M Dunfield, M Davies, F Nash (Chiumiento, 59), F Arnoux (Porter, 76)

Scoring Summary:
VAN: Koffie, 1
VAN: Nash (penalty kick), 13