Waston leads Whitecaps to MLS playoffs

October 26, 2014 at 10:06 pm | Posted in Whitecaps season 2014 | Leave a comment
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What a special night! This was one of the most anticipated matches in the Vancouver Whitecaps MLS era. It was the first match back at BC Place after the Whitecaps sealed both the Cascadia Cup and qualification for the CONCACAF Champion’s league. There was an air of celebration and a palpable confidence that we could qualify for the playoffs as well. Playoff frenzy and retail frenzy went hand in hand as the Whitecaps put their merchandise up for 50% off for the night.

Waston: hero of the match

Waston: hero of the match

It was one of those nights that was going to be a heaven or a hell. If the Portland Timbers won and we lost or tied, we would be out of the playoffs. As I walked along the concourse of BC Place I caught sight of Darlington Nagbe scoring to put Timbers up 1-0 in Dallas. Then, as we were waiting for kick off, news came through that Urruti had made it 2-0 Timbers in the 80th minute. It became clear we would have to beat the Colorado Rapids in order to make the MLS playoffs.

Carl Robinson started the match with Darren Mattocks up front, Morales, Rosales and Fernandez in attacking midfield, Teibert and Laba in defensive midfield, Harvey, O’Brien, Waston and Beitashour on the back line and the ever-present Ousted in Goal. Beitashour was soon injured and had to come off for youngster Adekugbe, who filled in perfectly after switching sides with Harvey.

The Colorado Rapids were eliminated from playoff contention long ago, but did their best to play spoilers. If not for some excellent goalkeeping by David Ousted, they might just have succeeded.

Manneh cranks one off the crossbar

Manneh cranks one off the crossbar

The pattern for this match was set early, as Colorado hunkered down and defended in numbers, while the Whitecaps buzzed around the park dominating possession. The tension in the crowd matched that on the pitch. The Whitecaps looked nervous and had trouble stringing passes together as Colorado broke up play after play.

Carl Robinson’s decision to start Darren Mattocks rather than Erik Hurtado up top proved to be the only questionable choice he made on the night. Mattocks had one of his feet-of-stone games, where the ball just bounced off of his foot whenever it came to the striker. His running was poorly timed and his one chance to score off of a Morales cross resulted in a poor deflected header that went wide. After this performance, will we see him play in a Whitecaps shirt next year?

As time passed by in the first half the consensus in the stands was that the Whitecaps had to score before half-time to take some pressure off of the team. It did not happen, however.

The first half did not look particularly good for the Whitecaps: they were nervous as a unit, Pedro Morales looked like he was nursing an injury, and Mauro Rosales was a bit slow and getting pushed and fouled off of the ball all too easily.

Ousted saved our bacon

Ousted saved our bacon

Seba Fernadez broke through midway through the half and was all alone on the keeper for the Whitecaps best chance, but ran out of room to take a quality shot. His weak effort was easily smothered by Clint Irwin in Colorado’s goal. The half ended scoreless and the tension in the stands grew. It was made all the more tense as just before halftime Colorado’s striker forced Ousted to make a difficult diving save to his right.

The second half began with the same personnel, but Carl Robinson did not wait too long before he rolled the dice. Ten minutes in to the second half he took out defensive midfielder Teibert and put another attacking player, Kekuta Manneh, into the fray. The move left Mathias Laba on his own protecting the back four, but greatly increased the pressure on Colorado’s defence almost immediately. Manneh did some spectacular runs down the left side of the pitch, cutting inside and striking the crossbar on one such run. All of the sudden it looked like Colorado could be broken.

In the 67th minute a sigh of relief could be heard as Mattocks, who was no threat to Colorado on this night, was replaced by the more effective Hurtado. Three minutes later the Whitecaps scored.

Waston the human missile

Waston the human missile

Kekutah Manneh won a corner kick in the 68th minute and the crowd leapt to its feet, willing the Whitecaps to score. As he had on all set pieces and corner kicks, Kendall Waston stepped up into Colorado’s 18 yard box. Morales hit the ball on the corner kick as only he can; the ball curled to the near post and dipped viciously. Hurtado jumped but the ball was just too high for him to head it. seemingly out of nowhere, Waston launched his body across two Colorado defenders with the top of his head heading straight at goal. He made contact with the ball, deflecting it low and past Irwin. BC Place erupted with the loudest sound since Peter Beardley score the first Whitecaps goal back in 1983. It was pandemonium, and the celebration lasted for a good five minutes.

Hurtado got through on goal a few minutes later to try to make it 2-0 but an onrushing defender made him snatch at his shot which went straight at keeper Irwin.

While Waston was always going to be the hero on this night, spare a thought for our Keeper Ousted who made two very difficult saves in the last minutes of the match to keep us in the playoffs. Not only did he make two great saves, he controlled the ball so no rebound was coughed up. It was superb goalkeeping from a man who has grown in stature the most this season.

Morales and Waston celebrate their work

Morales and Waston celebrate their work

When the final whistle went a party began the likes of which we have not seen in four years of MLS. Players stayed on the pitch celebrating, and fans stayed in the stands to join them.

Prior to the match Jay DeMerit took his retirement bow and gave a great speech about his time with the Whitecaps. After the match he celebrated in the Southside holding the Cascadia Cup in his hands.

The last time we made the playoffs in 2012 we got there because other teams were so terrible they were more terrible than us. This time we did it on merit: the Whitecaps got into the playoffs because they are a good football team.

The win set up a one match shootout in Dallas with Dallas FC this coming Wednesday. If the Whitecaps win that one, a home and away series with the Seattle Sounders awaits. The prospect is mouth watering; lets hope it happens.

Its over and we're in!

Its over and we’re in!

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