In a twist from three days earlier, the Vancouver Whitecaps came hard out of the gate against the NSC Minnesota Stars—and initially, they wound up worse off for their troubles. In the end, their efforts were rewarded, but not to the degree they would have hoped for as they finished with a 1-1 draw.
"It was two points lost," head coach Teitur Thordarson said. "I think we played well, especially in the first half. ... I think we still played well in the second half, but there wasn't the energy and there wasn't the intensity."
Unlike Thursday’s game against Portland where they started slow but came on late in the half and collected the match’s first goal, Vancouver controlled the play early on and created plenty of great chances. Marc Weber of The Province tweeted that it looked like a 3-0 Vancouver victory, and I concurred.
The game changed dramatically in the 28th minute on a counterattack when Johnny Meyongar sent Simone Bracalello through with a perfect long ball and Bracalello beat Jay Nolly with a tremendous strike from about 25 yards out. Energized by the goal, Minnesota began playing better defence and taking away some of Vancouver’s possession. The Whitecaps seemed somewhat stunned by the change in their fortunes and limped into the half.
The first half didn't produce the results for the Whitecaps it did against Portland, but it was a much better effort from Vancouver. Thordarson said he didn't change the pre-game approach, but his team came out a lot stronger.
"We were still focusing on having a go at them," Thordarson said. "We managed better today to keep posesssion in the open field. ... I thought we played extremely well in the first half."
The second half featured less stellar play, but it produced better results for Vancouver. Chances went back and forth, with Martin Nash narrowly missing in the 49th minute and Nolly diving to get one hand on a Bracalello long-range blast. The Whitecaps finally got on the scoreboard in the 67th minute when Marlon James, making his first appearance since May thanks to injury, set up Cornelius Stewart. Stewart fed Nash near the top of the six yard box, and Nash deked a defender, pulled it onto his left foot and beat keeper Matthew VanOekel.
Vancouver poured on the pressure after that, but the Minnesota defence held. Residency products Alex Elliott and Alex Semenets, the latter of whom was making his first-team competitive debut, gave good accounts of themselves as substitutes, but they couldn’t find the net. James narrowly missed in the 80th minute and Takashi Hirano sent a 25-yard free kick just high in the 86th minute. In addition to dominating the possession, the Whitecaps outshot Minnesota 16-7 and had nine corners to the Stars' two, but all the offence came to naught and they finished with only a single point.
Thordarson said he was impressed with his young players' performances.
"These are guys with great talents," he said.
According to Thordarson, the recent moves to trade Ricardo Sanchez and Jonny Steele and release Justin Moose were partly due to a desire to see what he had in his young players.
"Quite a bit, but it's more about trying to get together a roster we think is right to move forward with," he said.
Nash said the roster turnover has been a bit difficult to adjust to personally.
"It's tough," he said. "I've made friends with these guys over the past years."
Nash said he thinks the team has made the adjustment well on the pitch, though, despite the recent lack of results. He chalked part of that up to familiarity with many of the young players through their time in the Residency system and their occasional first-team appearances.
"They're all players who have been around us," he said.
Nash said he was comfortable working with Ethan Gage in central midfield thanks to the youngster's presence with the first team on and off over the past few years.
"Ethan's been kind of in and out for a while, but we know he can do it," Nash said.
The team may have adjusted to their new lineup, but they haven't produced the desired results yet. After a 1-1-2 record on this homestand, they head out on a five-game road trip and won't be back home until August 29. Nash said the recent results may be concerning, but the team's play isn't.
"I thought we had a great start to the game and we had a great first half," he said. "Tonight, we deserved more than a draw. We're playing well, we just have to find a way to win."
[Cross-posted to The 24th Minute]