When Yashir Pinto headed that Michael Cox cross off Carlyle Mitchell's head, then deflected the bounce into the back of the net, I cheered. I'm not going to lie to you. But in a weird way it was the worst thing that could have happened to FC Edmonton.
(Obviously, that's not actually true. Pinto's goal was both delightful and essential and if Edmonton didn't score there was really no point. But I'm in a narrative here so let's just roll with it.)
The Vancouver Whitecaps were playing with undue complacency and FC Edmonton was getting almost all the chances. After Michael Nanchoff had a goal unjustly chalked off in the second minute Vancouver continued to put men forward and play with a four-man front, but absolutely nothing came of it. Paul Hamilton put Davide Chiumiento in his pocket and kept him there, Camilo Sanvezzo was isolated, Eric Hassli was playing too withdrawn to do much. Meanwhile, Vancouver's central midfield of John Thorrington and Floyd Franks just plain lost the battle and Edmonton went hard on the attack.
Pinto's goal, the Eddies' first in the Voyageurs Cup, was absolutely no less than Edmonton deserved but it did galvanize the Whitecaps. Edmonton's players got a slight case of Hero Shot and went for everything individually. The Whitecaps tightened up. When Sebastien Le Toux came in and ended the tie at a stroke, well, that was no less than Edmonton deserved either.
Then it was garbage time. Etienne Barbara came on, kicked some ass, Le Toux scored again, Darren Mattocks of all people stroked a fine finish in after a bit of an awkward start. Edmonton gave their Paul Craigs and their Ilja Van Leerdams work while bringing off their better players and looked like they just wanted to go home.
The final score was 3-1, and I hope that doesn't obscure what was an excellent and evenly played game. Ultimately Edmonton will have no cause to complain about the result, but if you don't respect that team after this then you have something to learn about soccer.
Harry Sinkgraven's tactical innovations had mixed success. Michael Cox was full of piss and vinegar in Kyle Porter's place, playing savage soccer, assisting the goal, and while he didn't generate many chances personally Vancouver had to pay him disproportionate respect. Midfielder Kenny Caceros, late of the "Canadian" Soccer League's Capital City FC, was neither good nor bad (and thus beat expectations) and certainly outplayed the consistently disappointing Van Leerdam. Only Fabien Vorbe, making his first professional start, disappointed: he got a great big red "E" for his fall on Le Toux's backbreaking goal and generally played like ass. But with Fabrice Lassonde out hurt and Adam West nursing a knock, Sinkgraven had few options.
He said Edmonton was "unlucky" with their finishing. That's sort of true, but then again after Pinto's double-deflection goal and Nanchoff's unfair flag he can't have too much to complain about. And once Pinto did get a ball in the shock to Vancouver's system needs little explanation.
One must give Martin Rennie the laurel wreath for his substitutions: he brought in three players, two of them scored, and the other one really should have (what an unbelievable fingertip save it was from David Monsalve to deny Etienne Barbara his first Whitecaps goal in just about his first Whitecaps minute; there are times when a penalty is missed and you should "damn you, Long Tan!", and there are times a penalty is missed and all you can do is throw your arms up.)
Vancouver gained the edge back as soon as Pinto put the ball in, and of course Le Toux was a key reason for that. Also helpful was Davide Chiumiento putting his passing boots back on. Rather than charge forward over-confidently as a one man attack, he let Le Toux do the work while sitting back or going wide and looking for the best possible pass. You don't even need me to tell you what the results were because they were just that obvious (although you know David Monsalve will want Le Toux's first goal back; when even the scorer is saying he got really lucky on it, that was a bad goal).
Some love must be thrown to Barbara, who came onto the field for the first time as a Whitecap and seemed like he was thinking "okay, now I'm going to show all these guys what they were waiting for". That was great fun. He had a lot of success against Edmonton last year so if Barbara was going to make a good impression, here was his best possible chance. I'd say it worked, even if Monsalve did stop the penalty.
Poor David Monsalve. With Michel Misiewicz hurt, this is Monsalve's chance to prove he's an NASL starter and boy he is letting in some softies. He played well against Carolina but of Vancouver's five goals this tie I figure three stank pretty bad from a goalkeeper's point of view. One wonders how long this can go on. Monsalve came to Edmonton last year with a great reputation, some success in Finland, a cap for Canada, but he's just getting ventilated and nobody likes to see it. That was one great save off Barbara, but it was only one.
We can't pretend Edmonton deserved more than they got but this was a well-played game. Vancouver can be pleased with how they responded to threatening adversity. Edmonton will know they need to work on keeping the momentum when they get their first goal but also know that they played gallant soccer and finally got their asses on the board in the Voyageurs Cup. And, in the end, everything went exactly the favourite's way. Doesn't get much simpler.