PORTLAND — A year after missing the playoffs entirely, the Portland Timbers are best in the west.
That’s what the standings indicate after the Timbers beat the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 in the final game of the Major League Soccer regular season in front of a packed Providence Park on Sunday, earning them No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
It’s the second time the team has earned the top seed under head coach Caleb Porter.
“(Seeding) doesn’t ensure anything,” he said. “But after 34 games that’s a real good accomplishment. That’s the first season. That’s done. Now the second season is up and we’ve got five games to win a Cup.”
It was the Whitecaps who ended the Timbers playoff hopes in Vancouver on the final game of the regular season last year.
This time the Timbers, winners of their last six home games, flipped the script.
After conceding a goal toward the end of the first half, Portland equalized three minutes later, then scored the go-ahead early in the second half.
Vancouver was awarded a free kick outside the box, and Kendall Watson flicked a header past Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella in the 29th minute to put the Whitecaps up a goal.
That got the Timbers going.
Three minutes later, Whitecaps goalie Stefan Marinovic deflected a shot by forward Darren Mattocks, but Timbers center defender Liam Ridgewell followed the miss and scored.
“It was a big one before half time, and set us on our way,” Ridgewell said.
The Timbers then put together six shots on goal before half — and three goal scoring opportunities in the first half stoppage time.
Portland opened the with that same spark on offense in the second half, and it paid off early.
Sebastian Blanco played a ball behind the Whitecaps defense in the 48th minute. Vytautas Andriuskevicius beat the diving goalie to the ball, tapped into the middle of the box to Mattocks, who finished it past two defenders.
“The start of the second half you saw how badly we wanted to win this game,” Porter said. “I thought our best period of play was the first 10 minutes of the second half.”
It was the fourth goal of the season for Mattocks, who has found much-anticipated success starting at forward in the absence of Fanendo Adi, who has yet to return from a hamstring injury sustained on Aug. 6.
“We were never worried,” Mattocks, who playing for the Whitecaps for four seasons before being traded to Portland, said. “We knew with our style of play we were always going to get chances and we followed through.”
In addition to securing a bye during the knockout round, the win also solidified Portland as Cascadia Cup champions, a trophy handed out by supporters of the Timbers, Whitecaps and Seattle Sounders of which the Timbers had not won since 2009.
Portland entered the game one point behind then-first place Vancouver. Now the Timbers forgo the knockout round, which takes place on Wednesday or Thursday, and will play the lowest seeded team to advance.
“We just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Mattocks said. “Nothing changes. We just need to win our games, get results.