BURNABY, B.C. – A second-half strike by midfielder Martin Nash helped the Vancouver Whitecaps defeat the Portland Timbers 1-0 at Swangard Stadium on Saturday night. Opening their ninth season in the USL First Division Saturday, the Timbers suffered their first season-opening loss since 2006.
Midfielder Johan Claesson recorded three shots and midfielder Ryan Pore add two of his own to lead the Timbers (0-1-0, 0pts) in their first game of the 2009 season. Making his Timbers debut, goalkeeper Steve Cronin recorded three saves, including a first-half stop on the goal line.
Nash cashed in on an open look from the top of the box to pick up his first goal of the season and forward Charles Gbeke took a game-high six shots to lead the Whitecaps (1-1-2, 5pts) to their first victory on the season.
Portland was handed its first season-opening loss since 2006, when it fell by the same score to the Whitecaps in Vancouver. The Timbers are now 4-5-0 in their first game of the season since joining the USL First Division in 2001.
In the first match between the two Northwest rivals this season, the two sides played an even and intense first half, trading dangerous chances in and around the box. Both teams combined for 12 shots in the opening half, with several narrowly missing the mark.
The Timbers generated some chances early in the first half, including a shot from the top of the box by Claesson that sailed just over the crossbar in the 11th minute. Minutes later, defender Takuro Nishimura delivered a looping shot from 30 yards out that seemed destined to land inside the top right corner of the goal, but Whitecaps goalkeeper Jay Nolly punched the ball away with a leaping effort to keep the score level at 0-0.
Led by veteran forward Gbeke, the Whitecaps gained momentum midway through the first half and had several shots just miss their mark. Gbeke had four shots in the first half, including three headers inside the box, threaten the Timbers’ goal.
Cronin made a great save in the 38th to keep the Whitecaps off the board. On another long throw in landing in the box, Gbeke flicked a header at the left post, but Cronin’s diving effort stopped the shot inches off the goal line to keep the score even.
The Timbers had the last chance of the first half to break the deadlock. Forward Takayuki Suzuki received the ball and held it up at the top of the box. He slipped a pass to Pore making a run down the left side into the box. Pore served a low cross along the six yard box for two Timbers players making a run at the back post, but neither could catch up to the pass as the ball rolled through. The two sides entered the break tied.
The Timbers controlled the pace for most of the second half and had the better share of the scoring chances out-shooting the Whitecaps 8-6. Early in the second period, Pore made a great run down the left side and forced a one-on-one with Nolly inside the box, but the goalkeeper made a quick reaction save to keep the Timbers off the board.
Despite the Timbers owning a majority of possession early in the second half, it was Vancouver who broke through first in the 63rd minute on a blast by Nash. Portland made an attempt to clear a corner kick by the Whitecaps, but the effort landed at the feet of Nash and he blasted a full volley shot from 23 yards out into the back of the net to give the home side a 1-0 advantage.
But the Timbers continued to push forward. In the 68th minute, Claesson unleashed one of his two shots in the second half from 25 yards out that forced Nolly to make a diving save near the left post.
Midway through the second half, forward Jason McLaughlin got his head on the end of a corner kick by David Hayes, but his effort missed wide.
The match leveled out in the later stages of the second half and Cronin was forced into action. In the 72nd minute, he pushed a shot by Vancouver from inside the box wide of the back post and out of play to keep the game within reach.
Much like the end of the first half, the Timbers had the last chance of the game as it closed in on 90 minutes. Claesson chipped a pass into the box for Keita, who had no one in front of him but Nolly. Keita chested the ball down and in effort to slip his shot around the charging goalkeeper pushed his shot wide.
The Timbers make their PGE Park debut on April 30 when they play host to the Carolina RailHawks at 7 p.m. The first 2,000 fans at the Timbers’ home opener receive a 2009 magnet schedule courtesy of PGE. Tickets start at $11 and are available at the PGE Park box office, area Ticketmaster outlets, online at www.ticketmaster.com or by phone at (800) 745-3000.
Notes: The Timbers had 13 new players make their season debut Saturday in Vancouver … With the loss, Portland falls to 1-14-2 against the Whitecaps in Vancouver since 2001 …Among the 5,102 fans on hand Saturday over 150 Timbers fans were in attendance.
POR: GK Cronin, D Nishimura (Thompson, 89), D Knowles, D Keel (Danso, 86), D Hayes (Josten, 89), M Savage (Nimo, 69), M Claesson, M McManus, M Pore, F Suzuki (McLaughlin, 76), F Keita
VAN: GK Nolly, D Hirano, D Charles, D Bellisomo, D Reda, M Knight (Arze, 64), M Nash, M Gage (Moose, 64), M Trafford (Toure, 57), F Haber (James, 57), F Gbeke