There's an old saying in writers' circles that a great story pretty much writes itself, and while the feelgood tome that is the Vancouver Whitecaps' 2012 season is still very much a work that's still in progress, the most recent chapter, "Earthquakes Suffer Aftershock", was good for a few pages at the very least Saturday evening at B.C. Place stadium in Vancouver.
With Vancouver playing host to league-leading San Jose Earthquakes (7-1-1 coming into the match), the Caps were looking to make amends in front of the home crowd after blowing a 1-0 lead en route to a 3-1 loss in the "meltdown match" in San Jose four weeks ago. And as it turned out, Martin Rennie's side not only made up for their earlier loss, they made a little team history along the way as well -- earning Vancouver their first come-from-behind victory in Major League Soccer play in a thriller that saw the 2-1 game-winner come as the final seconds of added time expired on the clock.
It was, without doubt, the Caps' best performance of the season to date, and while maybe not quite as thrilling as the Samba Showdown vs Sporting Kansas City last season at the team's tempoary digs at Empire Field when the Caps netted two goals in stoppage time to earn a 3-3 draw, it was one of the most solid and convincing showings by a Whitecaps squad in recent memory.
Uncharacteristically poor marking from Y.P. Lee saw the Earthquakes take an early 1-0 lead when Marvin Chavez bent an inswinger neatly over Lee and into the path of Caps killer Chris Wondolowski for the easy header. But in the 39th minute Gershon Koffieput the Caps level with a header of his own off a Camilo Sanvezzo free kick. Koffie's marker came in heavy traffic, some of which was cleared from the scene by a hard-charging Martin Bonjour. San Jose keeper Jon Busch had no chance on Koffie's powered redirect. Though outplayed in the opening half, at least in terms of possession, the Whitecaps narrowly missed an opportunity with Alain Rochat angling a header just wide on another set piece effort -- this time off the the foot of Lee.
The second half, however, belonged to Vancouver. As the half wore on, and Earthquakes looked to settle in for the draw -- save for a couple attempts at the quick counter attack -- notably a 3 v 2 fast break in the 54th minute, that Chavez couldn't complete past Cannon. From that point onward Vancouver, playing a more aggressive 4-3-3 and committing men upfield with regularity, continued to push for the win. John Thorrington, Eric Hassli, and then Davide Chiumiento subbed into the match, and the injection of fresh legs saw Vancouver owning the ball and dominating play in the final 10 minutes as San Jose tried to hang on for the draw. They couldn't.
It looked as if the 'Quakes would eke out the single point when just a minute or so from the final whistle MoM Koffie launched a long floater to an inexplicably wide open Hassli, who accepted the ball withthe gentlest of touches, only to then fire it wide of the mark. It seemed his 17-match scoreless drought would continue. But with mere seconds left, Chiumiento picked out Hasslionce more, this time with a perfectly weighted through ball that Hassli latched onto and willed past Busch, who got a piece of the shot, only to see it catch the inside of the far post, and ease into the goal.
It was a complete victory for the Whitecaps, with standouts throughout the side, from the back end all the way to the front. Joe Cannon didn't get tons of media attention after a match like this, but he continues his run of excellence -- some of his five stops were high-quality efforts.
Jay DeMerit hardly put a foot wrong -- a welcome reversal of his last outing against San Jose. He was guilty, however, on the one "sleeper" moment of the match for Vancouver, when SJ took an ultra-quick free kick, and an unmarked Wondolowski was allowed an uncontested deflection attempt that Cannon alertly snagged. Rochat, back in his LB slot, gave the Caps not only added security on the defensive side, but a viable option to begin the attack from the left side of the pitch.
In the midfield, it was indeed the Gershon Koffie show. His Opta numbers give a pretty good indication of the stamp he put on the match: 31 of 40 passing, 9 headers, 3 key passes, 2 shots on target, 1 goal, 3 tackles won, and 9 recoveries.
Up front, Omar Salgado started very strong on the left wing, including a great 60-yard run past two defenders on the way to goal just seven minutes in. He did fade somewhat in the second half before yielding to Chiumiento. Camilo's numbers show a rather mixed result -- 14 for 26 passing, 3 shots on target, 6 unsuccessful dribbles, 21 losses of possession -- including one chuckle moment that saw him try to go 1 v 4. His willingness to take on defenders is commendable, but I question his math skills and decision making at times.
For the first time this year the Whitecaps' attack was consistent, concerted, and coordinated. It looked for once that everyone was on the same page -- pass completion rates were up, giveaways were way down, and set pieces generally looked more comfortable. Though slightly outplayed in the first half, the Whitecaps were still in the match, and came out of the halftime break refreshed. They owned the second half. Both Thorrington and DeMerit pulled off backheel flicks in the attacking penalty area that very nearly came off for scoring chances. The team is growing in confidence, and after four successive wins in a compact portion of the their season, the momentum gained could go a very long way toward seeing them secure a playoff spot toward the end of the season.