PORTLAND — The biggest prizes are out of reach for the 2012 Portland Timbers. But there is some life in the season, after all.
For the first time since July 3, the Timbers on Saturday walked off the pitch winners. And the 2-1 win over rival Vancouver Whitecaps FC keeps Portland ahead in the Cascadia Cup series.
Darlington Nagbe scored his sixth goal of the season and Franck Songo’o scored his first in Major League Soccer to earn the first win for Portland since before John Spencer was fired and Gavin Wilkinson inserted as interim coach.
Portland (6-13-6, 24 points) still trails fifth-place Vancouver (10-10-7) by 13 points in the Western Conference, where the top five teams advance to the MLS playoffs. But the Timbers now have a win and a tie against the Whitecaps and a win over Seattle Sounders FC to lead the three-club rivalry. Portland hosts Seattle in September, and visits both Seattle and Vancouver in October to close out its Cascadia schedule.
Songo’o broke a 1-1 tie in the 55th minute. His spinning free kick from 25 yards out slipped the grasp of diving Vancouver goalkeeper Joe Cannon and inside the left post.
Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, playing his first home match for Portland, had several big moments — including two reaction stops on the same corner-kick sequence in the 50th minute. And left back Steven Smith kept Portland in front by heading a ball out of his own goal mouth in the 74th minute.
“It’s part of the job,” Smith said of covering the goal-mouth from the side opposite the action. “I’ve given away a few goals since I’ve been here and I was fortunate enough tonight to be in the right position to head one off the line.”
Smith’s heroics came during a brief surge with about 15 minutes left when the Whitecaps came forward and created a trio of scoring chances. But the visitors didn’t threaten after the 84th minute, when they lost a man because Darren Mattocks was sent off for throwing an elbow into Portland defender David Horst as the pair battled in the air.
The Timbers struck first in the 41st minute on one of their prettier combinations of the season. Bright Dike settled the ball on the right wing, drew a couple of defenders, then sent a pass back into open space for midfielder Eric Alexander.
“I saw Eric wide open so I just gave him the ball,” Dike said. “That was my first instinct and luckily we scored off of it.”
Alexander touched the ball to Jack Jewsbury who surged forward and slipped a pass to Nagbe to chip past a sprawling Cannon.
But, as has been the case all season, that bit of prosperity didn’t last long.
In first-half stoppage time, the Whitecaps were awarded a corner kick that appeared to be undeserved. The Timbers had a chance to clear the initial cross, but didn’t. That led to a cheap chance for Miller, who was both unmarked and onside when a shot attempt by Jay DeMerit wound up finding Miller’s feet.
Nagbe, continuing a recent trend, was aggressive and dangerous on the ball. He became the first Timber to score a goal in three consecutive MLS matches, and nearly had a second Saturday goal from the doorstep in the waning moments.
“Everyone’s playing better, not just me,” Nagbe said. “Luckily, I’m the one getting on the end of things.”
The match also was the first MLS start at home for Dike, who started instead of Kris Boyd for the second game in a row and nearly scored with a header that hit the right post in the 27th minute.
NOTES — Brent Richards is likely to see action in Sunday’s MLS Reserve League match against San Jose. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the gate. A near-capacity crowd is anticipated. Richards was not one of the 18 players in uniform for Saturday’s match, the second consecutive match the Camas native has not been either a starter or available substitute. Any player who did not see significant minutes on Saturday is available for the reserve contest.
TIMBERS 2, WHITECAPS 1
Vancouver 1 0—1
Portland 1 1—2
First half—1, Portland, Nagbe 6 (Jewsbury, Alexander), 41st minute. 2, Vancouver, Miller 1 (DeMerit), 45th+.
Second half—3, Portland, Songo'o 1, 55th.
Goalies—Vancouver, Joe Cannon; Portland, Donovan Ricketts.
Yellow Cards—Rochat, Vancouver, 33rd; Thorrington, Vancouver, 65th.
Red Cards—Mattocks, Vancouver, 84th.
Vancouver—Joe Cannon, Young-Pyo Lee, Alain Rochat, Jay DeMerit, Andy O'Brien (Martin Bonjour, 60th), Camilo, Dane Richards (Atiba Harris, 85th), Jun Marques Davidson, Barry Robson, John Thorrington (Darren Mattocks, 65th), Kenny Miller.
Portland—Donovan Ricketts, David Horst, Hanyer Mosquera, Steven Smith, Kosuke Kimura, Franck Songo'o, Jack Jewsbury, Sal Zizzo, Eric Alexander (Rodney Wallace, 79th), Darlington Nagbe (Lovel Palmer, 90th+), Bright Dike (Danny Mwanga, 86th).