After a month-long road trip, the Vancouver Whitecaps completed their odyssey with a return to Burnaby’s Swangard Stadium. Unlike certain Greek mythological heroes, though, their return was less than triumphal, and they came away with just one point from a 2-2 draw with the Austin Aztex.
Whitecaps’ head coach Teitur Thordarson was impressed with his team’s play overall, but less pleased with their finishing touch.
“We created so many chances today, it is unbelievable we didn’t score more than two goals,” he said. “We could have been up 4-0 by half.”
Vancouver opened the scoring in the 16th minute when Martin Nash went in for a sliding tackle. The ball went off him and bounced to Cornelius Stewart, who broke in alone and drilled a low left-footed drive past keeper Miguel Gallardo into the bottom-right corner of the net.
The Whitecaps dominated much of the rest of the first half, recording six shots against Austin’s two and controlling the majority of the possession. They were unable to capitalize, though, and Austin equalized in the 44th minute when Lance Watson sent a corner that was knocked out of the box back in and Randi Patterson headed it perfectly back across goal to Yohance Marshall, who headed home from inches out.
Thordarson wasn’t particularly happy with his defence’s performance on the Marshall goal.
“The ball comes across the goal again and there were two players totally unmarked,” he said.
Buoyed by the goal, Austin came out strong in the second half. It was Vancouver who struck first, though. Stewart made a great pass to send new signing Ridge Mobulu in alone on goal. Mobulu had difficulty controlling the ball at first and slowed down, letting a defender catch him. He deked the defender but wound up on the touchline about four yards from the net. Somehow, he managed to deke another defender and drill the ball into the net from an impossible angle off a third Aztex player. It was a most impressive goal from a man who looks like he has the ball on a string much of the time. Even Thordarson had difficulty believing his eyes.
“It was incredible how he scored,” Thordarson said.
Austin wasn’t ready to give up without a fight, though. Their leading goalscorer, former Manchester United academy player Eddie Johnson, came into the game in the 79th minute and made an immediate impact. In the 80th minute, the Aztex earned a free kick about 25 yards out. It was sent in for Johnson, who made no mistake, climbing the ladder to execute a picture-perfect header that knotted the score at two. That marked the first time all year Vancouver had conceded two goals at home, and Thordarson was unimpressed.
“We conceded two totally unnecessary goals,” he said.
Both sides had further chances late on, most notably Austin. In the 90th minute, Maxwell Griffin made a superb left-side run into the box and crossed for Johnson, who was only about 10 yards out directly in front of goal. Johnson had to rush his shot thanks to the presence of a defender, though, and sent it skying high over the net into the beer garden. Neither side could add anything more and the clash finished 2-2.
The final statistics were remarkably even considering Vancouver’s long periods of domination. They finished with 10 shots against Austin’s eight and four saves against Austin’s three. The Aztex had a five-four edge in corners and were caught offside five times against the Whitecaps’ two. On the whole, the draw was probably a deserved result, but Vancouver will regret not capitalizing on another chance or two.
Thordarson said he thought the team played well on the whole, but they struggled towards the end.
“Over 65 or 70 minutes, I think we were quite good,” he said.
Finishing, or rather the lack thereof, was his primary concern, however.
“We struggled with finishing,” Thordarson said. “Of all the chances we created in the first half, if we could have scored one or two more, that would have changed the complexion of the game,”
He was impressed with the play of some of Vancouver’s new acquisitions, though, particularly Vancouver-born midfield Terry Dunfield.
“I think he played extremely well,” Thordarson said. “It’s not only that he won a lot of balls, but he played a lot of superb balls to the strikers.”
Dunfield shared Thordarson’s view that the team’s early play was strong.
“For the majority of the game, I thought we did well,” he said. “Really, for the first 75 minutes and especially in the first half, we executed what we worked on all week, which was playing high-tempo, high-pressure, getting the ball forward and causing them problems.”
Dunfield said he was thrilled to be playing with the Whitecaps.
“It was brilliant,” he said. “It was great waking up. I came to the game with my old man, I never thought I’d be doing that.”
He said his fitness isn’t quite there, but he’s working on it.
“If I’m honest, it’s probably a couple weeks away,” he said. “I’ll be sore tomorrow.”
Dunfield said a first-half spill that saw him down on the ground for a bit was nothing serious.
“I got winded a bit,” he said with a laugh. “I was hoping [the trainer] had some oxygen in his bag when he came on. I was after a pint from the beer garden.”
The draw moves Vancouver’s home record to a still-impressive 5-1-6. They’re 9-3-13 overall and remain in first place in the NASL Conference. Dunfield said it has been a challenge adjusting to so many new teammates, but the Whitecaps are still finding ways to earn points, and that will help them come together. Their road trip may be done, but their season-long odyssey isn't over yet.
“I think wins are the best way to earn chemistry,” Dunfield said. “I think the results speak for themselves.”
[Cross-posted to The 24th Minute]