By BRUCE CONSTANTINEAU, Vancouver Sun October 10, 2010

PORTLAND — The Vancouver Whitecaps booked themselves a passage to Puerto Rico – and the next playoff round – by losing 1-0 Sunday to the Portland Timbers at the University of Portland’s Merlo Field.

The result gave the Caps a 2-1 aggregate win in the two-game USSF D-2 series after they beat the Timbers 2-0 in the first game last week at Swangard Stadium.

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Vancouver travels to Puerto Rico to play the Islanders on Thursday in the first game of a two-game series. The second game goes Sunday at Swangard.

Portland took the game to Vancouver in the first half but couldn’t break a Whitecaps defence that was anchored by a strong performance from Greg Janicki.

Powerful Timbers striker Bright Dike always looked dangerous with the ball but forward Doug DeMartin had Portland’s best first-half scoring chances on two headers that just sailed wide.

The boisterous Portland sellout crowd of 4,884 sang, cheered, jeered and chanted at all the right times – even breaking into U-S-A! U-S-A! – but couldn’t lift their side to an early goal.

But the Timbers came out with a flurry to start the second half, grabbing their first and only goal of the series when midfielder James Marcelin headed home a cross from defender Ian Joy in the 49th minute.

The goal gave Portland new life, flustered the Whitecaps for a while and the field seemed to slant towards the Vancouver end for lengthy spells.

Whitecaps keeper Jay Nolly saved the day for Vancouver in the 56th minute when he stopped a dangerous close-in header from Dike and defender Terry Dunfield blocked a follow-up shot off the Vancouver goal line.

Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson said his squad basically dropped down and closed the door on Portland and felt the Timbers didn’t create anything more than “half chances” after scoring their goal.

“If you don’t dominate them, this is the game you will see,” he said. “They will hammer balls up top and try to break through you with physical play. It was a tough game and many of our players are banged up.”

Thordarson felt the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Janicki was a “rock” on the back line and might have played his best game ever as a Whitecap.

Janicki said he felt a little “beat up” after defending against the tough 6-foot-1, 220-pound Dike all night.

“But we didn’t let him score so that’s a positive I guess,” he said after the game.

Janicki felt the physical game Portland brought Sunday played into his strength.

“You’ve just got to grit your teeth a little bit and keep clearing the ball,” he said. “They kept pumping it, pumping it, pumping it [in] and you just have to keep winning header after header.”

Janicki said he felt a little nervous before the game because he hadn’t been in a playoff situation like this since he played college soccer at Michigan State.

“It felt good to be in that pressure situation and actually come out on top,” he said.

The Whitecaps made one change to the starting lineup that defeated the Timbers in the first leg, starting Ethan Gage at right back to replace injured defender Wes Knight, who dislocated his right shoulder in game one.

The Timbers made two changes – starting Tony McManus in midfield and former New York Red Bull Kevin Goldthwaite at centre back.

Timbers head coach Gavin Wilkinson said it was frustrating to lose to the Whitecaps in the playoffs for the second straight year, especially after going unbeaten against Vancouver during the regular season – posting two wins and two draws against the Caps.

“During the season we had their number and we deserved the results,” he said. “We were like a deer in the headlights for the first half in Vancouver. At this level, you can’t let yourself fall back and go behind two goals.”

SIDE KICKS: Caps defender/midfielder Zurab Tsiskaridze suffered a foot injury in training the day before the Portland game so midfielder Alexandre Morfaw flew down from Vancouver to take his roster spot.