VANCOUVER, B.C. – It was the biggest match of the season for the Vancouver Whitecaps, maybe the biggest in the franchise's MLS history up until this point, and they fell flat. The Caps fell to the Portland Timbers, 1-0, damanging their playoff chances.
A win would've secured the first postseason berth for a Canadian MLS club. Instead, they are forced to watch the out-of-town scores, which broke their way when FC Dallas fell to Seattle later in the night, clinching their 5th-place finish in the Western Conference and the #5 seed in the playoffs.
Playing at home in front of a sold out crowd of 21,000 at BC Place against the second-worst team in the Western Conference – a team that had yet to pick up a win on the road – the ‘Caps never really seemed to get going.
“We’ve got ourselves right up for this game tonight with a chance to go and win the game and confirm our playoff spot, and for some reason we never started at all tonight,” Kenny Miller told reporters following the game. “There wasn’t too many chances for us – even at 1-0 down you think you’d be throwing everything at them, but there just seemed to be something missing.”
The difference maker was a cracking 25-yard effort from Jack Jewsbury, a rifled shot into the top right corner in the 39th minute.
“It seems every time I’m in there, I’m giving up the goal of the week,” Brad Knighton said of Jewsbury’s goal. “But credit to him – it was a good strike. But we just didn’t take our chances here today and left 1-0 down.”
While the wonder-goal was an isolated bit of magic from a Timbers side that didn’t look incredibly dangerous themselves with few in the way of quality opportunities, it was the seeming lack of reaction from the Caps to the first-half goal that stung most for the home side.
“That spark was missing tonight,” Miller said. “We can’t explain it. We can look at how the game goes in Seattle – but no matter what, whether we’re in the playoffs or have to go for it next week – we need to find that in the next few games or you can kiss the playoffs goodbye.”
In the end, Vancouver backed into the playoffs, and reaction was mixed when players were asked about whether they’d feel better about the result if they advance to the postseason despite their loss.
“If we get in, it’s fine,” Jordan Harvey said. “It doesn’t matter how we get in as long as we get in.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.