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Whitecaps edge rival Portland 1-0

Vancouver Whitecaps News Release -

Saturday, April 25, 2009

BURNABY, BC -- Vancouver Whitecaps claimed their first win of the 2009 USL First Division season after a 1-0 home victory over Pacific Northwest rivals Portland Timbers on Saturday evening.

Martin Nash's first goal of the year was enough to earn all three points for the Blue and White in what was a highly entertaining derby contest at Swangard Stadium. Though the new-look Timbers caused the Whitecaps some problems during the match, resolute defending and fine goalkeeping from Jay Nolly ensured the home side came away with a hard-fought victory.

(Bob Frid)Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson named an unchanged side to the team that started the 1-1 away draw with USL-1 expansion club Austin Aztex on Tuesday evening. There were, however, three new faces on Vancouver's substitutes' bench. Striker Marlon James and midfielders Gordon Chin and Justin Moose were all dressed for Saturday's contest after missing the first three games of the season.

Timbers head coach Gavin Wilkinson, meanwhile, gave several of his new signings their Portland debut in Vancouver. Former Los Angeles Galaxy keeper Steve Cronin earned the start in goal, while the former Atlanta Silverbacks pair of David Hayes and Tony McManus also started in the weekend clash. Mandjou Keita and Takayuki Suzuki partnered in the attack for the Oregon-based outfit.

On a sunny but cool evening at Swangard Stadium, a crowd of 5,102 witnessed an exciting contest, with the game's atmosphere given real spice by a notable contingent of Timbers fans that had traveled up from Oregon for their club's USL-1 season opener.

The first quarter of an hour saw chances traded by both sides, with Marcus Haber and Charles Gbeke unable to find the target for the Whitecaps, while Portland's Johan Claessen struck a shot over the crossbar before Suzuki forced a save from Nolly.

It was on 20 minutes that the match came to life, as Nolly needed to make a fine stop to deny Portland defender Takuro Nishimura's shot from the edge of the Whitecaps box. From Hayes' ensuing corner, Cameron Knowles saw his goal-bound header cleared away by the home side.

The Whitecaps responded two minutes later, but had Gbeke not hit the post with his header from captain Martin Nash's corner and had actually scored, the goal would have been blown down for an infringement in the Timbers box.

The home side went close again on 26 minutes, but Gbeke could not find the far corner with his header after connecting well with Wes Knight's long throw into the Portland box. At the other end two minutes later, Whitecaps fans had their hearts in their mouths when centre back Marco Reda nearly headed Hayes' free kick from the left into his own goal.

Gbeke would then suffer more agony in front of the Timbers goal, as he headed both a Nash cross on the half-hour mark, and the captain's corner a minute later, wide of the target.

Vancouver continued to press into the late stages of the half, with Cronin doing extremely well to deny Reda the opening goal on 37 minutes. The Whitecaps centre back got his head on the end of Nash's free kick from the right, and despite appeals that the ball had crossed the line, the game remained goalless.

On 42 minutes, Luca Bellisomo sailed a tight-angle shot high and wide of goal after the right fullback had got on the end of Takashi Hirano's decent cross into the Portland box.

Though they had weathered a fair amount of pressure in the first half, the Timbers nearly took the lead into the break following a Whitecaps defensive mix-up. Ryan Pore made a dangerous run into the Whitecaps box from the left-hand side before playing a fine low cross for Keita in front of goal. Unfortunately for the visitors, the Gambian forward was not able to connect with the ball, despite having the whole of the goal to aim for.

It proved to be the last chance of the half, as both sides went to the halftime break tied at 0-0.

The early stages of the second half saw the Timbers come out and cause the Whitecaps problems at the back, as they went in search of their first goal of the season. McManus struck a shot high and wide on 52 minutes before Pore made a dangerous run into the Vancouver box, with his shot forcing a very good save from Nolly at his near post four minutes later.

The action prompted Thordarson to make two changes, with James entering the match for his USL-1 debut, as he replaced Haber in attack, while Ansu Toure took the place of Mason Trafford in midfield on 57 minutes.

Five minutes later, the Whitecaps were unlucky not to take the lead after Nash's free-kick strike deflected off a Portland player and struck the base of the post before rolling out for a corner.

From the ensuing corner a minute later, however, the home side took the lead through their captain. Knowles looked to have initially cleared away Toure's set-piece, but the ball fell kindly for Nash. In a moment that was similar to last season against the Timbers at Swangard, Nash struck a sublime first-time volley past a helpless Cronin to make it 1-0 - much to the delight and relief of the home fans. "I don't score many goals, but when I do, they are usually nice goals," Nash said to reporters after the match. "It just came down to me and I had time to hit it. Fortunately, it ended up in the bottom corner."

With the 'Caps scoring their first goal at home this season, Thordarson added more fresh faces to the match on 64 minutes. Justin Moose made his first appearance of the season when he replaced youngster Ethan Gage in midfield, while Vicente Arze came on the pitch for Knight.

On 68 minutes, Portland's talented Swede Claessen forced another good save from Nolly with his decent strike before James came within inches of scoring his first-ever Whitecaps goal four minutes later. However, the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines international headed Gbeke's cross wide of the far post.

Though disappointed to be a goal down, the Timbers kept pressing to find an equalizer, and after introducing former 'Caps striker Jason McLaughlin to the match for Suzuki on 76 minutes, Keita had a dangerous tight-angle shot blocked away for a corner. Three minutes later, Claessen forced another save from Nolly before Knowles headed Hayes' ensuing corner wide of the far post.

On 83 minutes, Gbeke had a chance to secure the Whitecaps all three points when he got on the end of James' fine byline cutback, but the big striker sailed his effort over the Timbers bar.

As three minutes of time added on were played, Arze forced a save from Cronin before Keita went ever so close with a close-range chance for Portland, while Pore struck a shot wide for the visitors.

In the end, the Whitecaps held on for an important early-season win, but the Timbers showed more than enough to suggest they may be strong challengers in USL-1 this season after missing the playoffs in 2008.

Timbers assistant coach Amos Magee felt there were many positive signs from his team on Saturday. "We came back in the second half and created a bunch of chances by dictating the rhythm of the match," said the former Minnesota Thunder head coach. "However, we got hit on the sucker punch and had trouble dealing with their big centre forwards late in the game. It was a good home win for Vancouver, but we can take away a lot from our first game of the year. For us, that is something to build on."

Thordarson, meanwhile, was not only pleased with Saturday's result, but also with the return of key players from injury. "The win was very important, but it was also extremely nice to get players like Justin Moose and Marlon James on the pitch tonight," said the Icelandic tactician. "They are quality players who will give us a lot during the season, so it is good to have them back in the squad."

The Whitecaps will prepare over the next week for a trip to Minnesota to face the Thunder next Saturday night, while Portland return home play the first of two matches versus Carolina RailHawks at PGE Park on Thursday evening.

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