Vancouver Whitecaps fans got a glimpse of what's looking to be an incredibly bright future for the Major League Soccer club - but that does little right now for taking the sting out of a very recent past that out-and-out sucks, as last night the Whitecaps downed Toronto FC 2-1 at BC Place in regulation time, yet failed to advance to the Canadian Championship final versus Montreal.
Vancouver entered last night's second leg match trailing 2-1, but with a vital away goal in the bank. The 2-1 scoreline for the Caps after 90' meant two periods of extra time - which failed to settle things - and then penalty kicks, where the Caps came up a goal short of keeping their chances alive, and TFC took the semi-final 5-3 on penalties.
Both teams knew the importance of getting on the scoreboard first, but it was Toronto that succeeded in the very early going, as Doneil Henry pounced on a loose ball near the goal line after 17-year-old Marco Carducci made perhaps his only mistake of the game in failing to come down with a ball he had challenged for.
Referee David Gantar appeared to lose his whistle in the early going, as Vancouver had three legitimate claims for a penalty inside the first 20 minutes, but never got the call.
The Whitecaps clawed back to level terms in the match shortly before halftime when striker-gone-wild Erik Hurtado raced onto a ball from Pedro Morales and slotted a sharp angle ball low and away from Joe Bendik.
The Caps upped the pressure in the second half, holding TFC to only one shot on goal while controlling almost 60% of the play. Eventually, with the Caps all over a very nervous Toronto side, Gantar was left with no choice but to call a penalty after Henry flagrantly took down Hurtado in the area at the 86' mark. Morales slammed the ball past Bendik - who guessed right, but just couldn't get across fast enough to get a hand on the ball.
After the extra time didn't settle things, the teams moved into PKs, with the difference being an uncharacterisically softly struck ball from Kekutah Manneh that Bendik rather easily got down to handle.
Coach Carl Robinson, as predicted, largely stayed the course with his youth movement, augmenting it slightly with the addition of Pedro Morales and Nicolas Mezquida as starters, drawing in for midfielders Kianz Froese and Marco Bustos, who are serving with the Canadian national U-20 team.
Mathias Laba came in off the bench for Bryce Alderson at 67', and Omar Salgado replaced Nicolas Mezquida just four minutes later, as the Caps began their pushback attempt. Robinson went all-in at 82' when Sebastian Fernandez came on for Christian Dean, with Teibert dropping back to cover the LB spot.
Despite the exit from Voyageurs Cup play, Vancouver put on what may have been the most entertaining, and certainly the most skillful overall performance of any side to wear the Whitecaps kit.
Time and again Morales showed that his dribbling skills can be breathtaking. Salgado and Hurtado both made strong cases for themselves, as did keeper Carducci, who made a handful of top-quality stops to give Vancouver a chance.
There is sure to be debate as to whether or not Robinson should have gone with as many youngsters for the second leg, but there's no doubt that those that figured in the match have gained invaluable experience, and are secure in the knowledge that they've earned their coach's confidence.
Suffice it to say that the soiled underpants ratio was far higher in the center of the universe last night than it was here in Vancouver.
Yeah, dispatching Toronto would have been nice. But looking just a little further down the road, there are plenty of reasons to think that even an attempt at divine intervention from the guy in the sky isn't going to work next time.