Vancouver Whitecaps lose to TFC in Wednesday night thriller

May 15, 2014 at 10:18 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps, Whitecaps season 2014 | Leave a comment

The Canadian Championship is a trophy with very little lustre.  Winning the Canadian Championship gets a team into the CONCACAF Champions League, another less than glamorous affair in which Major League Soccer teams only very rarely thrive and mostly flounder.  Add to this the fact that both Toronto Football Club and the Vancouver Whitecaps put out less than their best teams, and one would expect a very dull encounter. 

Man of the match: Joe Bendik

Man of the match: Joe Bendik

Precisely the opposite occurred. Played in front of 18,000 or so, the second leg of the Canadian Championship semi-final was a scintillating affair, a truly spectacular football match.  All of the people in my row were unanimous in the view that this was the best match to watch this year, and one of the best we have seen in the years since the Whitecaps inaugural MLS season in 2011.

The Whitecaps were underdogs going in to the match, being down 1-2 from last weeks match in T.O.  Carl Robinson played a slightly stronger side on paper, but retained some of the youngsters who played so well last week.  17 year old Marco Carducci was in goal, and a second string back four protected him: Christain Dean was left back, Johhny Leveron and Carlyle Mitchell were in the middle and Nigel Reo-Coker was at right back.  Russell Teibert (captain), and Bryce Alderson played defensive midfield, and Morales, Manneh and Mezquida played in attacking midfield positions.  Erik Hurtado was our sole striker.

Hurtado through: 1-1

Hurtado through: 1-1

 

The match did not start well. An early goalkeeping error by young Carducci arguably proved, on balance, to be what decided this match. Carducci came out late for a high ball and was easily beaten to it by TFC’s Haagelund, whose awkward effort hit the crossbar and was banged in by the waiting Henry as Dean flailed about trying to stop the efforts. Already on the back foot before the match even started, the Whitecaps were now really looking in rough shape, being down 3-1 over two legs. As a spectacle, the early goal meant the Whitecaps had to attack aggressively, and this made for a wonderful night of football. 

TFC decided to “park the bus” in front of their goal, hoping to capitalize on a counter attack. The Whitecaps were relentless in attack, and TFC barely got out of their own end the rest of regular time. Captain Russell Teibert took responsibility for being the primary ball distributor for the Whitecaps, playing multiple passes from his deep midfield position. The Whitecaps created chances in the first half which Manneh and Morales barely missed. The Chilean midfielder was the key creative player for the Whitecaps on this night, and it was he who put Hurtado through alone late in the first half with a perfectly weighted high ball over TFC’s defences. Hurtado streaked through unopposed and hit the ball first time on the volley to equalize the match. It was the previously snake-bitten Hurtado’s second goal in as many matches, and the come-back was on. It was 3-2 TFC on aggregate.

The second half brought on a spectacular display of attacking football by the Whitecaps which was matched by an equally spectacular performance by the man of the match, TFC’s goalkeeper Joe Bendik. Bendik came out of his goal to thwart Manneh, Salgado and Morales with brave, one-on-one blocking saves. Were it not for Bendik we would have won this match easily. Though nowhere near as busy, Carducci did his best to match Bendik with some great saves at the other end.

Morales spot kick made it 2-1

Morales spot kick made it 2-1

It was getting late in the match when a deadly through ball into the box by Manneh towards Hurtado caused Henry to bring the Mohawked one down in the box. Morales went and picked up the ball to take the penalty, which he dispatched low to Bendik’s right. The match was tied and two 15 minute periods of extra time loomed.

During extra time it was clear to see the Whitecaps had shot their bolt and were very tired. Morales could barely walk, suffering from bad cramping, and only second half substitutes Laba, Salgado and Fernandez had any jump at all. Fernandez had a couple of brilliant charges down the field only to fail at the last move. TFC had the better chances in extra time. Only some superb goalkeeping by Marco Carducci saw the Whitecaps through to penalty kicks. TFC’s Dwayne De Rosario rattled a low shot off of the post as well.

When the penalties came we feared the smaller Carducci would struggle against the giant Bendik. As it happened, all shooters except Kekuta Manneh scored. Manneh comitted the worst mistake a penalty taker can make: he took a very short, angled run up to the ball. Time after time this approach fails. Bendik easily saved Manneh’s weak shot, and it was all over when TFC converted their fifth penalty.

Carducci: brilliant save

Carducci: brilliant save

Though it was a tough and bitter loss, it was a brilliant night of football which thrilled all present. Who knew it would happen during the Canadian Championship? Speaking of which, this was the seventh straight failure of the Whitecaps, who seem to find new and creative ways of getting knocked out of the competition every year.

Though it is hard to begrudge his player choices given the great football we got to watch, ultimately Coach Carl Robinson could have played a much stronger team in the first leg in Toronto in an effort to progress to the final. The Whitecaps paid the price with yet another failure in the Canadian Championship. Lets hope the experience the younger players accrued during these two games against TFC pays off in the future.

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