The Vancouver Whitecaps (5W-12L-9D) were unable to ride the wave of a Theo Bair wonder-strike, instead finding themselves flushed out of Providence Park, as they were unable to best the Timbers (10W-9L-4D) on what was a rainy night down in Portland. It was not for a lack of trying, as the Caps put up a spirited performance, but in the end, their dam was broken by a resilient Portland attack.
Playing in front of a passionate Timbers Army, who did well once again to bring the noise that they are so famed for, the game felt special right from the get-go. With the Caps sending a respectable contingent of away fans themselves, both teams were boosted by their strong support in the historical derby.
Portland got things started in the 20th minute, with a flurry of chances in the box leading to Sebastian Blanco finding himself with space just inside the box, but his strike was stopped by Crepeau, before Diego Valeri lashed at the rebound, which was then blocked by the head of Ali Adnan.
Soon after, the Timbers would find the game’s first goal, as Blanco would find himself free once again. This time about 25 yards from goal, he hit the ball well, lashing out and delivering a strike that headed towards the net with a purpose. With the rain pouring down, and the ball knuckling heavily, it had the perfect elements to beat a usually reliable Max Crepeau, as the ball would bounce off of his fists and into the back of the net, giving Portland the lead.
But despite falling behind in front of the hostile Portland crowd, Vancouver refused to give up. In the 39th minute, after winning a corner in the Timber’s end, a innocuous-looking ball was sent in by Fredy Montero. It was unable to connect with any of the Caps heads, before being cleared out towards the edge of the box.
It was from there that Theo Bair stepped in and changed the game. The 19-year-old academy product, yet to open his MLS account even though he’s creating quality chances in each of his appearances to date, shot onto the scene in a big way. Despite the ball falling in such a way that he ended up striking it when it was almost behind him, he struck it well, sending the ball across his shoulder and into the far corner of the goal. It was a world-class goal, and it was exactly the break the Caps needed.
“I spoke with Zac (MacMath) before actually,” Bair said of what helped him score the goal. “I was watching some highlights and he told me that they never expect to shoot, so just do it and see what happens. In that moment when I saw the ball dropping, I said if I shoot this and it goes in, nobody is going to be mad at me, and it happened, and it was one of the most unbelievable experiences of my life.”
For Marc Dos Santos, it was the kind of moment he knew was coming for Bair, who has worked incredibly hard to get to this point.
“He worked, he worked (hard) for it,” Dos Santos said of Bair. ”He worked really hard for it, he deserves it, it’s very hard to get an opportunity, and then to get his first MLS goal like that is very good for him”
With the Caps acquiring former Canadian International striker Tosaint Ricketts this week, and with DP strikers Joaquin Ardaiz and Fredy Montero already in the fold, people might have wondered what the future held for Bair. But after a game like that, where he scored, created a couple of chances, took guys on and created an aerial presence, it should put him at the front of the pecking order, at least as they round this stretch of the road heading into the next set of games.
Despite some good chances from both teams, the half would come to an end all tied up. With neither team really distancing themselves from the other, it was a merited result, and it was shaping up to be a classic Cascadian Derby.
“I think in the first half it was a very good game overall,” Dos Santos said. “The commitment of everybody on both teams was good, our first half was good, we were able to get the tying goal at half time.”
With Portland having a shout for a handball near the end of the half, they came out firing for the second period, as they would look to avenge what they felt was a missed call by VAR. After both teams would trade chances early in the stanza, Portland would find the game’s next goal, with winger Marvin Loria curling a peach from 30 yards, scoring a marvellous goal to send the Timbers Army into a frenzy.
“When it was 1-1 Theo had a good chance to make it 2-1,” Dos Santos said when talking about that period of play. “Then they get that second goal, on a deflection from one of our players, it’s a good shot, but it’s unlucky, so then it’s 2-1.”
Vancouver would nearly tie the game right back up again, as they would score less than 5 minutes later. Fredy Montero would find Yordy Reyna streaking right down the middle, and the Peruvian did well to chip an onrushing Steve Clark, tying things up.
Or so they thought. VAR instead came in to deny the goal, with Reyna deemed to have been offside on the play. With the call being so close, it was hoped that the Caps would get some luck, but instead, it was same-old for the Caps, who would see yet another close decision go against them.
“Would have loved more from today,” Midfielder Andy Rose said post-match. “The fight was there throughout the 90 minutes, I think at 2-1 we were certainly in the game, I’ve just watched Yordy (Reyna)’s goal, and I thought that it was so close, too many times this season was the finest of margins that have kind of gotten in our way.”
Rose would nearly find a goal himself in the 77th minute, as he and the Caps pushed for a late equalizer. A deep ball from out left found him in a good spot in the Timbers box, but his lashed effort would strike the side of the goal, keeping things at 2-1.
Despite Vancouver’s best attempts to turn the deficit around, Portland would eventually add to their lead, they carefully crafted an attack down the left side, carving the Caps defence open as they sent numbers forward to try and equalize. Jeremy Ebobisse would find himself all alone in front of Crepeau, and he made no mistake, adding to Portland’s lead.
So while Vancouver would have certainly felt hard done by the result, it was overall a special occasion. With a great atmosphere, slick conditions and great goals, it was the exact kind of night one would expect from this kind of derby, making for a memorable evening.
“It’s what you come to expect of these sort of games,” Rose said of the atmosphere. “The fans make it so great, the rain helps speed up your play, the way the ball moves, from the outside for sure it was a special evening, some incredible goals, but from our point of view it’ll be frustrating to be on the receiving end of it.”
Wings on the Bairplane?
Theo Bair made a return to the wing this game, playing a striker and winger hybrid that had him both running up the pitch, as well as tucking inside. For a player of his stature, it seems a bit curious to see him used like that, but with his surprising speed, it makes him a matchup problem in that role.
Still, Bair does have familiarity with the role, and he touched on it post-game.
“A lot of my academy career I played winger,” Bair said of his positional versatility. “So I’m comfortable there, and I feel good there.”
Bair has done well in what was originally a tactical decision made out of necessity, with a lack of true wingers hampering the squad in recent weeks. With Lucas Venuto shipped out and Lass Bangoura injured, an already apparent lack of wingers has been pronounced. The only options remaining are Bair, PC and Levis, who all prefer other positions.
When asked about it after the game, Dos Santos admitted that the lack of wingers had forced him to switch formations tactically, but one would think with the arrival of Michaell Chirinos and the return of Lass Bangoura, as well as the signing of Tosaint Ricketts, who can play out wide, that the Caps return to a more traditional 4-3-3 with actual wingers.
“That’s why we addressed it in another form tactically,” Dos Santos said of his narrow 4-3-2-1. “That’s why we’re playing the way we’re playing. I think today we did enough offensively on the road, to get goals, we scored 1, we could have easily scored 2, and I think at the end of the day it didn’t happen”
But for Bair, if this formation continues to be employed, he will continue to play and thrive in his new role. He’s worked hard to gain the trust of his coaching staff and teammates, and with the goal in his back pocket, people around the league will take notice of the young man.
“The technique is sublime, it’s incredible,” Rose said, speaking of his teammate and his goal. “What a way to announce yourself is what I said to him. He’s worked really hard for this opportunity, all credit to him. In the season, earlier on, when he wasn’t involved.”
“He put his head down, the academy boys had seen what had happened with Alphonso Davies, so they all want to be the next one. I think he’s worked so hard on little things in his game throughout the season, he’s been humble, kept his head down, and he deserved that goal.”
The Caps are back in action next week at home, with DC United making a trip west. With Felipe Martins now in tow, and Wayne Rooney a possibility to feature, the game will not lack for interesting storylines. A couple of new faces are expected to provide boosts for both teams, giving two struggling teams some fresh blood, so they should come out with plenty of juice for a rare cross-conference clash at BC Place.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs DC United, August 17th, 2019, 19:00 PST (BC Place, Vancouver)