It looks like Head Coach Martin Rennie's job is safe-this week, anyways- as the Vancouver Whitecaps marched into New York and toppled a tough Red Bulls squad 2-1. It was a come from behind win from the 'Caps, who improved to 4-4-4 on the season. It also snapped New York's 7 match win streak, an impressive accomplishment for a club coming off a heartbreaking draw on Wednesday, that saw them lose the Canadian Championship.
It all seems like a distant memory now though, as the Whitecaps defeated an elite MLS squad despite missing key players. Darren Mattocks, Gershon Koffie and Nigel Reo-Coker all sat out of the contest, while Martin Rennie decided not to start YP Lee. Whitecaps whipping boy Jordan Harvey stepped into Alain Rochat's spot on the backline, while Rochat was moved into the attacking mid. Greg Klazura also got his first MLS start, stepping in for Lee. Leveron and O'Brien took their normal spots.
In addition to Rochat in mid, Russell Teibert, Matt Watson and Jun-Marques Davidson all grabbed spots in the starting eleven, while Camilo and Kenny Miller started up top. In net, Brad Knighton once again got the start in net, another sign that the goaltending situation might play out like last season, with Cannon finding himself on the bench halfway through the season.
While the 'Caps had moderate success in the early going of the match, it was clear New York were simply out classing them. By the end of half, the 'Caps would hold just 28% of possession; granted, possession is a flawed stat, but then numbers were truly telling of the Whitecaps struggles in the opening 45.
At 15' Brad Knighton was pressed into action, facing an onslaught from the talented attack of the Red Bulls. First, it was Fabian Espindola with a shot Knighton had to stop, then Thierry Henri tried to run on the ball, but Knighton stood tall again. Finally, Knighton finished earning his paycheque for the night by stopping a Johnny Steele strike to keep the match scoreless.
At 21', New York came close to opening the scoring, as Juninho launched an absolute rocket from well out, that just missed over top of the net. A few inches lower and that laser beam was rippling mesh.
At 43', when the half was nearly over, the Whitecaps got arguably their first good chance of the match, when Johnny Leveron juuust missed a well struck free kick. As the 'Caps made their way to the locker room for the half, you couldn't help feeling good about the scoreless draw, but queasy about the level of competition New York was providing. It just seemed like a matter of time before the Red Bulls would charge, and leave the Whitecaps in the dust.
The second half saw a much better effort from the Whitecaps, although they did have to play catch up. At 51', the french legend Henry took a Juninho ball just outside the top of the box. Henry coolly waited, then slid a nice pass to a charging Steele from the left, who's cross hit Greg Klazura and bounced past Knighton for the first goal of the match. Taking it in stride, after the match Klazura would joke that in his first MLS match, he got his first MLS goal. His night was cut short, however, as he was forced out due to injury at 57'. YP Lee came on in his place, which actually turned out to be the best thing for the 'Caps. Lee seemed to wake the squad, and their compete level picked up after it.
The 'Caps would get back on even turns at 58', courtesy of the last man you'd expect. After being flayed alive on Wednesday for his missed opportunities at the end of the Impact match, Jordan Harvey blasted a rising shot into the net for his first of the year. YP Lee had sent in a cross that a Red Bull headed away. Harvey stepped up, then smacked the ball out of midair to breathe life into the Whitecaps.
The Whitecaps came on very strong after that, and were aided by some rough play from the Red Bulls at 75'. Defender Jamison Olave received his second yellow of the night for a slew foot on Miller, knocking him out of the match and putting the Red Bulls down to 10 men.
The Whitecaps took advantage (when's the last time we could say that?) of this amazing opportunity, with Kenny Miller doing the honors. Miller scored his third of the year by heading home a nice Teibert cross, putting the Whitecaps up 2-1. Could this underdog squad, playing on the road with key regulars out, actually win against the mighty Red Bulls?
Teibert almost made it 3-1 with the match winding down, as he marched in 2 on 1 with Miller. Miller played it perfectly, drawing the defender to himself before setting up Teibert with a nice pass. Teibert hesitated, then lifted a bad shot just overtop of the net, meaning there would still be some drama in the final minutes of the match.
Despite 5 minutes of extra time, the Whitecaps actually managed to hold onto their lead, something they couldn't do on Wednesday. That familiar feeling of disappointment that comes with being a Whitecaps fan was suddenly replaced with optimism and pride. Could this be that season changing moment? I've said that two or three times this season, so take that question with a grain of salt.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Brad Knighton. He kept the club in it early, then made some key saves down the stretch. He is the number one goalkeeper on the team now.