It's tough to trust Jason deVos as an objective commentator when the former defender fiercely argues against a penalty caused by a centre-back being, well, a centre-back. In the case of Seattle's 82nd-minute penalty, however, you don't need the opinion of a former Canadian international to tell you that Jay DeMerit was unquestionably screwed over by referee Ismail Elfath. If you're in the possession of a working brain and pair of eyes - parts Mr. Elfath apparently lacks - you'd come to the conclusion that DeMerit's challenge on Seattle's Cam Weaver was far from a foul, let alone a penalty. Heck, even Kasey Keller on the Seattle broadcast was left speechless following Mr. Elfath's decision, and when a former Seattle player on a Seattle broadcast is silent following a call favours the Sounders, you know something foul is afoot.
Don't believe me? Let's go to the video:
Yeah, that was pretty [expletive] bogus. But enough dwelling on the worst part of the game - there were 90-odd other minutes of the game that provided plenty of other talking points, so let's take it from the top.
Vancouver sent out their now-standard 4-2-3-1, with Nigel Reo-Coker taking the place of Steven Beitashour at right-back in defense. Matias Laba and Gershon Koffie took up their usual deep midfield roles, while it was Kekuta Manneh, Pedro Morales, Sebastian Fernandez and Erik Hurtado forming the attacking corps. Seattle countered with an expected 4-4-2, putting together a backline of Jalil Anibaba, Zach Scott, Djimi Traore and Leonardo Gonzalez. Expected starter Chad Marshall ended up staying at the hotel sick, so a quick shout-out to whichever eatery in the Lower Mainland botched basic food safety when serving Seattle. Moving up the park, Seattle's midfield was notably missing Clint Dempsey and Lamar Neagle, featuring instead Chad Barrett, Osvaldo Alonso, Gonzalo Pineda and Marco Pappa. To the surprise of no-one, Obafemi Martins and Kenny Cooper took up the striker positions at the top of Seattle's 4-4-2.
Quick shout-out to Curva Collective for their impressive tifo, featuring four Douglas firs for Vancouver's four Cascadia Cups:
If there was any doubt that Vancouver is capable of playing attractive, attacking soccer, it was eradicated in the first ten minutes. Clumsy tackling aside, it was all Vancouver to open the game, with Hurtado, Manneh, Koffie and Morales all getting quality looks at goal before Seattle began sneaking in their own shots on the counter. Speaking of Koffie, it was a top-notch performance from the youngster, who had not one but two great chances before the mach was nine minutes old. His second shot in particular was a laser that ricocheted off the cross bar and down onto the turf before bouncing clear. While it looked a goal depending on which camera angle you looked at, the behind-the-net camera clearly showed the ball in front of the goal line, not behind it.
As the first quarter-hour flurry died down, the teams settled into their respective rhythms - the 'Caps attacking, though with fewer Grade-A chances, and the Sounders countering to try and punish Vancouver on the break. Unfortunately, the visitors from Washington State did just that in the 36th minute. After recovering the ball in midfield, Seattle pushed out wide where Kenny Cooper found himself marked by Jordan Harvey. While Cooper's first cross was blocked by Harvey, the ball fell kindly for Cooper who had all the space he needed to float a ball into the area. Chad Barrett rose up for an uncontested header, which he nodded from the penalty spot into the far corner, past a diving David Ousted for a 1-0 lead. It was a well-taken header, but one that should never have happened; Barrett was allowed far too much reign in the penalty area, with Jay DeMerit having been caught going forward to try and break up Seattle's movement and Nigel Reo-Coker caught ball-watching instead of rising to challenge Barrett.
Thankfully, Seattle's joy was short-lived. Hurtado started a play with a great track-back to get the ball, playing a gorgeous one-two-three with Fernandez and Morales to get himself into space. Hurtado proceeded to undress multiple Seattle defenders, including a deep-lying Osvaldo Alonso, before sending a scorcher past Stefan Frei off the underside of the bar. It was a complete effort from Hurtado, who is rewarding Carl Robinson's faith in him with remarkable goals in consecutive league matches.
Following a stoppage-time miss by Fernandez high and wide, the teams would go into halftime tied 1-1. Vancouver held a 14-4 shots advantage, though only managed two on target. It would be fair to say, then, that Vancouver's finishing problems still need some sorting out. All that pretty midfield doesn't mean much if you can't truly test the goalkeeper more than twice a half.
Compared to the all-guns-blazing opening to the game, the second half started far more cautiously for both teams, though their roles - Vancouver attacking, Seattle countering - remained the same. In an odd moment, the first incident of note in the half was a 51st minute scrum that formed after Gonzalo Pineda smacked a ball out of Carl Robinson's hands in the technical area. Pedro Morales seemed to take the most offense, though nothing more came out of it other than some mild pushing and shoving. Despite the TSN broadcast team's assurances that Pineda would see a card, Mr. Elfath elected to give Pineda a talking to and nothing more. It will be interesting to see if either team is found to be in violation of the league's mass confrontation policy, though I suspect nothing will come of it.
Vancouver responded the correct way following the dust-up, with Koffie sending a shot wide from distance after a good run from Hurtado. This was a theme throughout the game: Hurtado and Koffie linking up well, often with an extra touch from a supporting player - typically Morales or a winger. Eager to get in on the action, Manneh made his biggest play of the evening by sprinting past the defense for a chance on Frei, only to have the angle closed down by the Seattle 'keeper quickly for a save.
The 'Caps would be rewarded for their persistent attack in an unusual way in the 66th minute. After an errant clearance forced Frei well out of his net to prevent a corner, the keeper thumped the ball to midfield right onto the chest of Gershon Koffie. The Ghanian-Canadian wasted no time volleying a strike back downfield, finding the empty net from midfield much to the chagrin of a sprinting Frei. Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid was livid, insisting that Koffie had handled the ball when playing it off his chest. The Seattle gaffer may have a point; after watching and rewatching the clip on TV with judicious use of the pause button, the ball appears to come off of Koffie's chest and clips his arm, which is not held in a natural position at his side. I'm a little fuzzy on the specifics of handball vs. ball-to-hand, so I'll leave the facts here for the rest of you to decide. The important result from all of this was the scoreline: 2-1 Vancouver.
The chances kept coming for the Blue-and-White as they attempted to seal the game, with Hurtado heading a Manneh cross over the net in one play and having his shot blocked after making hay with a Reo-Coker clearance in another. (Side note: the olé! chants in the 72nd minute were hilarious.) As the substitutes made their way to the field, it looked like Robbo's side was on their way to a convincing Cascadia Cup victory.
And then, well... that happened. Let's not revisit it, shall we?
Instead, let's talk about how player of the match Gershon Koffie took the remainder of the game by the scruff of the neck and attempted to single-handedly will the team on to victory. After Obafemi Martins nearly stole all three points for the visitors by rattling his shot off the post and Pedro Morales rifled his own shot low and inches wide, it was all Koffie, distributing and shooting with aplomb. In the 93', Koffie made a stunning individual effort to muscle himself and the ball clear, only to see his laser of a shot tipped over the bar by Frei. Not content to leave it at that, Koffie made one final attempt in the 97', forcing a save once more out of Frei with a solid drive low to the far post.
It's a good thing for Nigel Reo-Coker that Steven Beitashour is with Iran because, at this rate, Koffie and Laba look immovable from their spots in the midfield. That's not to say Reo-Coker wasn't good - he actually had a solid game, the Barrett goal notwithstanding. It's just that Koffie and Laba are putting on a clinic in midfield that only a madman would want to disrupt at this point. Morales had another good game up top and Hurtado, for all my continued worries and past criticisms about him, made another highlight reel goal in as many games. This is a team that is looking more and more like a solid playoff contender, especially when they can wring an olé! out of the crowd.
Too bad they had an é-ol reffing the game.