Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Whitecaps - RailHawks: Force meets object, but not much of a result

Tonight in Vancouver, an immovable object and an unstoppable force decided to forget the whole thought experiment and go for a drink together. The Vancouver Whitecaps came into this clash with a 4-0-2 record at home in USSF Division II play, while the Carolina RailHawks were 2-0-3 on the road, so you would have expected something to give. Neither side did, though, and the game ended 1-1 after a solid battle.

Vancouver looked set to pick up another low-scoring home win when Ansu Toure put them ahead in the 31st minute. It was a beautiful goal with a terrific buildup. Former USL-1 MVP Jonny Steele found space for a run down the left flank, where Toure normally plays. Toure shifted inside and Steele sent a cross in for him near the top of the six-yard box, but it was slightly behind him. Toure reached back, though, and with a move straight out of a freestyle competition, hit a behind-the-back sideheel into the net.

Their lead was short-lived, though. In first-half stoppage time, controversy came to light when Whitecaps’ defender Zurab Tsiskaridze went down near midfield after a challenge. No call was made and Carolina had a temporary advantage. They rushed in on goal and defender Nelson Akwari was beaten by the RailHawks’ lone striker, Etienne Barbara. Barbara didn’t have much of an angle, but Akwari foolishly took him down from behind and conceded a penalty. Barbara made no mistake from the spot, beating Jay Nolly with a low blast to the bottom-left corner that tied the game at one. It also was the first USSF-II goal scored against the Whitecaps at home this season, snapping their streak after six and a half games or 585 minutes.

Carolina started the second half with a bang off a Josh Gardner run six minutes in, but Nolly made the save. From that point on, the Whitecaps controlled more of the play and produced some excellent chances. Steele sent in a picturesque cross to Marcus Haber, playing his final game at home for the Whitecaps this year (he’s scheduled to return to West Bromwich Albion after two more road games with Vancouver), but Haber’s header went just over the net. Philippe Davies had another strong chance off a looping header in the 67th minute, but Carolina goalkeeper Eric Reed tipped it over the bar. The RailHawks’ five-man midfield kept Vancouver from doing too much offensively, but the Whitecaps poured it on towards the end. Haber, Takashi Hirano and Wes Knight were all denied, though, and the match finished 1-1. It was a physical game, with the Whitecaps picking up 16 fouls and the RailHawks collecting 11. Vancouver outshot Carolina 9-5 on the day and put six shots on target against the RailHawks’ three.

Vancouver captain Martin Nash said afterwards there were some positive elements to take away from the draw.

“We scored from open play at least, so that’s a start,” he said. “We had a couple of close opportunities, we had some nice runs, we just didn’t put the ball into the back of the net.”

Nash said the team might be waiting too long for the perfect play.

“We didn’t put the ball in quick enough,” he said. “A bad ball in quick is sometimes better than a good ball in late.”

He said it was frustrating trying to break down the Carolina defence, though.

“They pass the ball well, so they get rested, but they pack 11 guys behind the ball,” he said. “They’re a team that battles, you have to admire that.”

Nash said he wasn’t impressed with the penalty call.

“From my angle, I thought he dove a bit, but sometimes you get those.”

Vancouver head coach Teitur Thordarson said the penalty shouldn’t have been given.

“I definitely thought we were offered a wrong decision from the referee,” he said. “They basically gave them a goal, so that was frustrating.”

Thordarson said he didn’t receive a satisfactory explanation of why the call was made when he tracked down referee David Barrie at halftime.

“I asked what he gave a penalty for and he didn’t give me a good answer,” Thordarson said.

He was also annoyed that the tackle on Tsiskaridze earlier in the play went unpunished.

“On the penalty, there’s a tackle on Zurab where it should have been blown as a free kick, but it’s not and then they get a penalty.” Thordarson said. “It’s very frustrating.”

The Whitecaps were without striker Marlon James tonight. Thordarson said that was thanks to injury concerns.

“We’ve been giving him some time to get his fitness back,” Thordarson said.

He’s optimistic James will be able to return midway through the Whitecaps’ upcoming road trip, which goes until they host AC St. Louis on July 8 and spans five games. They’ll play the Austin Aztex on Saturday, then head to Puerto Rico on June 16 to face the Islanders, visit St. Louis on the 26th and then finish up with a June 30 match in Montreal against the Impact and a July 3 match in Portland against the Timbers. Thordarson said the schedule poses a difficult challenge, but it’s out of their hands.

“There’s nothing we can do about it,” he said. “We just have to face it.”

[Cross-posted to The 24th Minute]

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