The Vancouver Whitecaps have made a name for themselves over the last few years as being one of the more solid franchises in the A-League. The overall history of soccer in Vancouver has generally been a happy story with every incarnation of the team enjoying success on and off the field. From the heady days of the late '70s when the original Whitecaps brought home the Soccer Bowl, to the first incarnation of the 86ers that seemed to win championships at will in the CSL (and set a still-standing record of unbeaten games dating over two seasons), to the current Whitecaps that are consistently in the top tier of the league in attendance, soccer is a bona fide success story in this city. And you would think it WOULD be with our very diverse set of cultures here on the west coast.
But something has happened lately that gives a rather darker look to the current soccer scene. And it comes from a rather unexpected source- owner David Stadnyk. The same Mr. Stadnyk that resurrected the team last year and gave us a year of high optimism. And he should be given credit for that. But maybe he ran too far too fast. And maybe he didn't see the monster he was creating when he ponied up big dollars for a new name and uniform.
Whatever the reasons, and only he knows the real ones, the state of the franchise was certainly on edge as the Whitecaps took on their old nemesis Seattle Sounders in the second of a back to back series.
The Sounders have just raced from the gate this year, winning everything to date including the first game in this series. That particular game went to overtime before the Whitecaps fell 1-0 on the turf at Memorial Stadium. Our old nemesis the Sounders are at it again this year and would prove to be tough opponents at Swangard as well.
In the first game, the Sounders fired 21 shots at the Vancouver goal (although the game was quite close based on the play), and Vancouver keeper Jim Larkin proved once again the quality keeper that we wanted when we signed him in the off season. But everyone is entitled to a rough outing now and again, and it wouldn't take very long in the rematch to find out just that. It would take exactly 4 minutes and a seemingly harmless 35 yard shot by Andrew Gregor that just slipped through Larkins' hands to give the Seattle visitors the early lead.
The fact that the Sounders were ahead early seemed to fit the pattern of the first half: the 'Caps were always just a step behind. The Sounders are a well organized team and showed it in the early going, their defensive unit continually stopping the Whitecaps midfield and forward units from getting anything done. It was also a chippy affair, and the damp field prevented long spells of posession from either team. As the half finished up, the Sounders were hunkering down on their 1-0 lead and the Whitecaps were finding the going very difficult.
The second half was different. Maybe Tony Fonseca had a quiet word with the troops at halftime, and maybe the team just decided to play. Whatever it was, the Whitecaps took it to the visitors for most of the second half and were duly rewarded 12 minutes in. It was an excellent goal from Alfredo Valente who did all the work getting open at the top of the box and drilled an 18 yarder into the top corner. They deserved the equalizer, and continued to feed off of the momentum. But we mentioned earlier that Jim Larkin was having a rough time on this night, and his part in the affair still had one more chapter. A direct free kick from Gregor rebounded off of Larkin (who just couldn't get a hold of it) and fell to Viet Nguyen who drilled home from close range. It was a cruel blow and effectively sealed the fate of the Whitecaps. It was also Seattles only chance of the second half. But in this game you only need one chance and it was enough. Despite a wide margin in shots (13-5), the Whitecaps suffered their second straight loss to their interstate rivals with another date scheduled for next week.
One has to wonder how much the off field situation played on the minds of the players during the home and home series. I'm sure they'll say they got on with the game, but in my opinion the two games were very winnable and it seemed that overall there was a lack of concentration and against a well organized team like the Sounders you cannot be giving them any reason to get an edge. I'm sure Jim Larkin will put the game away very quickly. It would be unfair to lay the blame strictly on his shoulders, and if the Whitecaps had any sort of finish on this night, his mistakes wouln't have mattered. I'm sure he'll bounce back just fine.
Vancouver (white w/blue trim)13 shots
Larkin; Clarke, Berg, Cameron; Dailly, Kindel, King, Veer, Valente; Morris, Jordan
Seattle (all black) 5 shots
Burpo; Barton, Jenkins, Edwards; Daligcon, Farrell, Gregor, Nguyen, O'Brien; Sawatzky, Ching
top photo&right side photoby Brian Goldie; left side photo #1 courtesy Vancouver Sun ; left side photo #2 by Brian Goldie
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