Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The scoreline remains the same

For the Vancouver Whitecaps, the scoreline remained the same Wednesday night at Swangard Stadium as their third consecutive match there finished in a 0-0 draw. This had much more to it than previous USSF Division II efforts against Crystal Palace Baltimore [Simon Fudge,] and the Montreal Impact, though; the Voyageurs’ Cup and its accompanying berth in the CONCACAF Champions League were potentially on the line against hated rivals Toronto FC. The Whitecaps responded to the occasion and played a superb game against a Major League Soccer side, controlling possession, shutting down TFC’s attackers and creating their own chances. At the end of the day, though, that superior effort merely translated into another 0-0 scoreline.

Head coach Teitur Thordarson was pleased with his team's performance, though.

"I thought we played exceptionally well in all departments of the game," he said. "I thought we did well and controlled the game. For me, the only thing missing was the goal."

Thordarson said this kind of effort against Toronto FC bodes well for the Whitecaps' league play.

"We're creating chances against a team that's in the MLS," he said. "If we can do that, we can certainly create chances against the teams in our league."

Defender Wes Knight said the team's been more cohesive lately, which has helped.

"The last two games have been a breath of fresh air for us," he said. "We're coming together as a unit."

The Whitecaps dominated the first half of play and created several good chances. The best was a Ricardo Sanchez corner that found an unmarked Nelson Akwari at the far post in the seventh minute; Akwari headed wide, though. Vancouver picked up five first-half corners to TFC’s none and several dangerous free kicks, and they controlled the run of play, but were unable to break the deadlock.

The second half was much the same story, despite a few halftime adjustments from TFC. Vancouver controlled the possession and displayed a heightened sense of urgency, and they were rewarded with a plethora of solid scoring chances. A Marcus Haber cross just missed Justin Moose in the 50th minute, and a Sanchez effort from 20 yards out less than a minute later didn’t miss by much. Luca Bellisomo had a superb chance late in the half off another corner, but narrowly missed. TFC didn’t control much of the ball in the second half either, but they created a few notable chances on the counterattack. Amadou Sanyang fired high from 20 yards out in the 78th minute, though, and Dwayne De Rosario’s 83rd-minute effort was parried. Vancouver poured on the pressure late, but their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful and the match finished 0-0.

The Whitecaps have now gone 279 minutes in all competitions without a goal. It's also the first time in club history (across the NASL, Canadian Soccer League, A-League and USL) that they've racked up three straight goalless draws. Their last tally was Haber's 81st-minute penalty against Montreal. Knight said he's not worried, though.

"I feel very confident in our squad and our defensive ability," he said. "The goals will come."

Thordarson said it's not any particular flaws in the Whitecaps' game that are keeping them off the scoresheet. In particular, he thinks they've done well to create so many chances off set pieces.

"The service off the corners is perfect," Thordarson said. "It's just a matter of luck."

Thordarson said nothing's changed since the Whitecaps' early-season goals; he feels they just aren't getting the bounces.

"You need a little bit of luck," he said. "Earlier we had that, later we didn't."

From a Toronto FC perspective, this was more of a disappointing outing. The Reds were outshot 10-6 and conceded 10 corners while only earning one of their own. Head coach Preki said he wasn't impressed with his team's showing.

"I don't think we played particularly well," he said. "I don't think we came ready to play today right from the first moment."

Preki said that might have been from a long road trip, or it could have been Toronto underestimating their opponents.

"It could be complacency, maybe a little bit of fatigue, but I don't want to make excuses," he said.

He did make some interesting lineup decisions, leaving the likes of Stefan Frei, Sam Cronin and Chad Barrett on the bench to start. Preki said he elected to go with Jon Conway rather than Frei in goal to give Frei a rest.

"We've got two good goalies," he said. "Sometimes, you've got to give Stefan a little break. I thought Jon did a good job tonight."

Vancouver now controls their own destiny in the chase for the Voyageurs' Cup. They have two points from two matches (home draws with Montreal and Toronto). Toronto has seven from three matches (two wins against Montreal and tonight's draw), and Montreal only has one. The remaining matches see the Whitecaps on the road against TFC and the Impact. If they win both, they claim the title with eight points; if they drop any points, TFC will clinch their second consecutive championship.

That's going to be a difficult challenge for Vancouver, though. They were 2-7-6 on the road in league play last year, and beat Montreal while losing to TFC in last year's Voyageurs' Cup road games. Thordarson thinks they can pull it off, however.

"It is doable," he said. "If we go into Montreal and play like this, we will create chances."

Knight isn't intimidated by the tough task ahead.

"It might be to our advantage," he said. "We go into Montreal with our backs against the wall. We have nothing to lose."

The Whitecaps' next Voyageurs Cup clash is May 26 at 5 p.m. Pacific/8 p.m. Eastern in Montreal. It will be live-blogged here. Come join me then!

[Cross-posted to The 24th Minute]

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