PORTLAND, Ore. -- With first place in the Western Conference on the line, the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps served up a dramatic 90 minutes of soccer at Providence Park on Sunday afternoon. But in the end it was the Timbers who claimed the crown in the West and a first-round playoff bye, fighting back from going down to a Kendall Waston header, to come away with a 2-1 victory in a fiercely contested Cascadia Cup derby.
"Thirty-four games is a long, long season," said a clearly pleased Timbers coach Caleb Porter after the match. "For us to be -- after 34 games, nine and a half months -- top of the West, it says everything about the group I have in that locker room and the quality I have. We did it with different guys as well, but we earned it and we deserved it."
Portland now have some time off to rest before facing a yet-to-be-determined side in the Western Conference semifinals. Porter says the preparations have already started and they're not taking anything for granted.
"[Being first] doesn't ensure anything," Porter said. "That's the first season. That's done. Now the second season's up and we got five games to win the Cup. We're going to take them one at a time and you'll see just as hungry a group. Trust me... We'll be defined by the next five games."
Despite being the first team in the West to clinch a playoff berth, Vancouver have been struggling down the stretch and their poor run of form couldn't have come at a worse time.
Sunday's loss made it just one win in their final five matches, slipping out of the top two places in the Conference and forcing them into a first round playoff match at home to the San Jose Earthquakes midweek.
It's not what anyone wanted -- and a few weeks ago, it probably was not what anyone expected -- but 'Caps coach Carl Robinson was trying to look for the positives in it all.
"I'm obviously disappointed for the guys, but they shouldn't be disappointed in there," Robinson said after the match. "Our body of work is 34 games a season and we finished third by one point. We can all say we should have done this and could have done that, but every team does that. For us to be just falling short in the last game shows how far we've come, so we'll take that as a positive."
The Whitecaps at least have a chance to get back in the saddle quickly and exorcise some demons. Vancouver's inability to hold on for the win against San Jose last weekend cost them dearly, and everyone connected with the team wants to make sure they don't make the same mistake again.
"Now we have to lift our heads up and see that [the next game] is a final that we have to win," Waston, the Whitecaps captain, told reporters. "We gave it away in the game against San Jose at BC Place. That's it. But now we have another opportunity against them again, to get into the semifinals.
"That is a nice opportunity. Everybody and every thing has been fighting from the beginning of the season to get in there. Now we have that opportunity and hopefully we can take it."