Misery and delirium. Horror and hysteria.
I could try to analyze that but what would be the point? The Whitecaps had a cracker of a first half, all things considered. Vancouver ran the game but, alas, Sporting Kansas City's stalwart goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen kept them in the game. Then, just before half, defender Roberto Espinoza corralled a sloppy Jay Nolly throw and knocked a ball to, of all people, of all the blasted hated people, Teal Bunbury. The whistle was almost at Silviu Petrescu's lips to end the half. Instead Bunbury hit a glorious curling shot past Nolly, or it would have been glorious if anybody else had scored it.
Then Sporting got another one, not far into the second half. More sloppy play, poor Greg Janicki fighting an abdominal injury and getting turned like nobody's business, Bunbury corrals a Milos Stojcev pass and dances past Janicki like he's standing still. It's 2-0. Finally, Kei Kamara finishes affairs with a shot cranked from the corner of the area. 3-0 Sporting Kansas City, a bit over an hour in. Time for despair. We are being dominated, and of all teams we're being dominated by a loathsome Canadian traitor and a huge Danish goalkeeper who's apparently made of brick wall.
Then Teitur Thordarson does the right thing. 3-0 down? Crowd dead, team decomposing, no hope? Perfect time to go for offense. In comes Nizar Khalfan for the hapless Janicki.
It was like glass shattering. Khalfan sets up Atiba Harris's goal in the seventy-third minute and we make jokes. I cue the Rocky music in the game-day thread. The Whitecaps challenge a little, force a great save out of Nielsen, but no more. Sporting Kansas City, meanwhile, timewastes like mad: Michael Harrington and Teal Bunbury both see yellow for delaying. The fourth official is not impressed and adds on five minutes, not that it'll make a difference with the Whitecaps exhausted, wounded, short-handed in every way, and down two goals.
A few less die-hard fans leave the stadium early to beat the traffic. Poor mad fools. Camilo da Silva Sanvezzo takes the game by the balls. By the time Sanvezzo has scored the equalizer at 90+3', the temporary stadium feels like it might shake down. Khalfan, the catalyst of it all, smashes a ferocious shot at 90+4' that misses by an inch, but that would have been almost too perfect.
Oh my god I love soccer.
It's a funny thing that a hellacious comeback draw like that satisfies more than a 1-0 win ever could. Remember, the Whitecaps had more than their share of excellent scoring chances. In the twenty-eighth minute, Sanvezzo uncorked a magnificent shot with his left foot that Nielsen only just tipped over the crossbar, and the ensuing corner resulted in Blake Wagner thundering a low shot from distance that Nielsen only just got to and then very nearly bobbled with Atiba Harris roaring in like a bat out of hell. Harris showed off a little too, unleashing a ferocious drive just past the half-hour mark which Nielsen somehow parried. If those goals go in, Kansas City winds up deflated and 2-0 down, and Vancouver jogs out the string, then we're all happy. But nothing like as happy as we are now, even with one point instead of three.
There's good reason to be happy on a few levels. It's always good to know that your team has guts and by god, the Whitecaps showed guts. They sagged a bit after Bunbury's second, but that's only natural: the defense looked like idiots on that one. Greg Janicki was fighting a hip pointer and is a normally good defender who made the mistake of playing tough instead of admitting he couldn't cope: I admire his competitiveness and understand his problem, but at the same time Janicki was a human speed bag out there. No wonder the Whitecaps were a little disoriented.
Nizar Khalfan's substitution changed everything. He brought energy, he brought desire. There's Good Khalfan and there's Bad Khalfan, and you can never be sure which one will turn up for a given game: well, we needed Good Khalfan and that's who we got. Davide Chiumiento is already getting the headlines for coming out for a twenty-minute run despite his hamstring strain, but Chiumiento was more smoke than fire. Khalfan was not only energetic but he got results. His cross to set up Atiba Harris's goal was utterly sublime; not even Harris was going to miss a chance like that. And even though he was less involved in Sanvezzo's dramatic brace, he was still constantly up and down the pitch, crying havoc. It was a joy to watch, and I would have enjoyed Khalfan's performance even if the result hadn't been so immense.
I was also impressed by Michael Boxall. He plays like a truck. A truck made of people. By the second half, the Sporting forwards had given up even trying to challenge Boxall for headers, and a combination of strength and positioning meant that they had trouble exploiting his lack of speed. He's still raw, of course; he made some mistakes and he's not that good with the ball at his feet. But I'm definitely counting myself a Boxall fan and am looking forward to seeing more of him.
Hell, I was happy with this team. Even the guys who played badly like Janicki and Blake Wagner. They were full of try. They plugged away, plugged away. They didn't get that point because of some lucky breaks or because Kansas City fell apart; they earned it.
What's not to love? Even when this team doesn't win, they leave me feeling like a winner.
Game Ball: oh, come on. Camilo Sanvezzo picked up the climactic brace, obviously, but even before then he was a ferocious little firebug who almost had his way with the Kansas City defense. If not for Nielsen's heroics he quite legitimately could have had a five-goal game. As it was, he has to settle for being the hero of the hour.
Most Disappointing: with apologies, given his injury, this can't be anybody but Greg Janicki. He was directly culpable for two of the three goals. Without him, we would have won. That doesn't change the fact that I think he's an MLS-calibre centre back and, long term, I'm not worried about him in the least.
Next Up: just what every injury-savaged team needs: a mid-week game! The Whitecaps host the New England Revolution Wednesday at 7 PM for their home weekday night game opener. Is that a thing?