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The first-round of the USSF Division-2 Pro League is a two-game, aggregate-goals series, and the team that scores the most goals in the series will advance to the semifinals. The Whitecaps scored two goals in the first 13 minutes of the series opener Thursday in Burnaby, B.C., to claim a 2-0 win and a two-goal lead in the series.
In order for the Timbers to advance, they need to defeat the Whitecaps by three goals. At minimum, Portland must score two goals in regulation of Game 2 and keep the Whitecaps off the board to force series overtime. The winner of the Portland-Vancouver series will advance to face the Puerto Rico Islanders in the semifinals.
The loss on Thursday marked the end of the Timbers’ season-long, 10-game unbeaten run and was also the first loss by the Timbers to the Whitecaps this season. During the regular season, Portland was 2-0-2 in its four games against Vancouver, winning the 2010 Cascadia Cup. Thursday’s playoff opener was the Timbers first loss since Aug. 4, and the club’s first loss by multiple goals since July 28 – a 3-0 road loss to AC St. Louis.
The first-round series between the Timbers and Whitecaps is the fourth time the two Northwest rivals have met in the postseason since 2001. In each of the three previous playoff matchups, the Timbers have trailed Vancouver in the series heading into Game 2. In 2007, Portland overcame a one-goal deficit with a 3-0 win in its home leg to win the two-game series 3-1 on aggregate. Last season, the Timbers and Whitecaps met in the semifinals of the USL First Division playoffs. Vancouver brought a 2-1 series lead into PGE Park and the two sides battled to a 3-3 draw. With the result, Vancouver edged the Timbers 5-4 on aggregate.
As members of United Soccer Leagues/USSF D-2 Pro League, the Timbers are 12-23-11 all-time against the Whitecaps in both regular-season and postseason contests. In the playoffs, the Timbers are 1-5-1 against their Northwest counterparts.
Needing to score goals, the Timbers will look to USSF D-2 Pro League Golden Boot winner Ryan Pore, who scored a league-best 15 goals during the campaign, and rookie striker Bright Dike, who tallied 10 goals in 23 games during the regular season. They will be facing the league’s best defense in Vancouver, which allowed a league-low 22 goals during the regular season.
Portland will also need to keep the Whitecaps off the board in order to keep the NASL Conference runner-up from adding to its lead in the series. The Timbers backline finished the regular season ranked second in the league in fewest goals allowed (23 in 30 games). Goalkeeper Steve Cronin finished the regular season with the second-best goals-against average at 0.789.
Tonight’s match is the final meeting between the Timbers and Whitecaps as lower-division clubs. The two will both join Major League Soccer in 2011 as expansion clubs.