The Portland Timbers U23s aren't going unnoticed.
The Vancouver Whitecaps, a middle-of-the-road team in the Northwest Division, brought their grade-A effort to Friday's match at Jeld-Wen Field. They even forced the undefeated Timbers to play from behind for the first time this season.
But eventually, Portland tamed the Whitecaps with two goals five minutes apart late. Roberto Farfan, a Gresham native, and Cameron Vickers each scored midway through the second half en route to a 2-1 win over Vancouver.
The Timbers improved to 5-0 and remained in sole possession of first place in the division. But Vancouver, which dropped to 2-3-2, never made the match easy for Portland.
'Being at the top, you definitely have a target on your back all the time,' Vickers said. 'Everybody wants that top spot. And being with an organization like Portland, everyone wants to be a part of it. So we definitely have targets on our backs.'
The Timbers had wildly been outshooting Vancouver through the first half. However, they were still without a goal. And a rare 1-0 deficit was taking time to adjust to. They felt flat.
Halftime, though, allowed Portland to regroup.
'We knew we could do better,' Farfan said. 'We weren't happy with the way we were playing, and we just came out (of halftime) with the mindset of knowing how we could play.'
And some good fortune allowed Portland to tie the game.
Off an assist from Erik Huratado, who, by his own reaction, was guilty of a handball, Farfan laced a shot from the top of the 18-yard box. Vancouver keeper Lucas Menz misjudged the ball when he dove in an attempt to stop it. With Menz airborne, the ball sailed under his upper body and into the net, tying the game at 1-1 in the 65th minute.
'It felt great, especially since we were down,' Farfan said. 'Just because they were a hard team to play against it was good to level the score.
'We came out pretty quick in the second half, and it paid off. It really turned the momentum of the game.'
Five minutes later, Portland had control.
Mark Sherrod received the ball wide of the goal inside the box. Double teamed, it appeared the forward's only play was to retreat from his position and set up another attack. But Sherrod found a hole and slid the ball down low between the two defenders. The pass caught Vickers in stride, and he found his own narrow opening, scoring on a shot that squeaked between the goalie and the goal post. Portland finally had the lead, 2-1, in the 70th minute.
'(Sherrod) did a great job of holding the ball up,' Vickers said. 'He's a strong kid, and he had great vision to slip me in, and I just hit it.
'The keeper is big. It's tough to beat a keeper like that far post from that angle. So I decided to put it low, and I got lucky and it went in.'
Portland outshot Vancouver 26-12 and 13-5 in the second half. The only score Portland goalie Richey Spencer allowed was to Whitecaps forward Ben Fisk.
The Timbers U23s are back in action at 6 p.m. Saturday when they travel to Tumwater High School to face the Seattle Sounders.