VANCOUVER, BC - I admit that I was pretty pessimistic going into this match against the San Jose Earthquakes tonight, but the Vancouver Whitecaps' recent slump has been a test for even the most die-hard fans, myself included.
As the Caps continued to drop points as the draws and losses mounted I have been secretly begging and pleading with the "Football Gods" to let the Caps prove me wrong.
Tonight the Whitecaps proved me wrong.
But let's be honest for a moment shall we? The match picked up right were the Caps left off against D.C. United this past Saturday night, and despite dominating the possession game throughout the first half they still looked like a team that was struggling for ideas in front of the net and it seemed like the Whitecaps' attack would continue to sputter.
Clearly it looked as though Carl Robinson was struggling to find something, well anything really, to kick-start his attack and Erik Hurtado started the match in place of Darren Mattocks, who was nursing a "knock" he picked up last weekend.
Hurtado, for my money, did alright - he wasn't horrible, but he wasn't great either. Ten minutes before full-time Hurtado found himself in acres of open space behind the Quakes' backline, but put his shot well wide of the San Jose goal.
But before we lament the goals that should have been, let's backtrack and talk about the goals that were.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the Caps were not creating a lot of opportunities in the first half, but were handed a lifeline when referee Carlos Jose Rivero judged that Victor Bernardez fouled Vancouver newcomer, Kendall Waston, as the Costa Rican tried to make a play on a Pedro Morales free kick in the 39th minute. San Jose fans may have felt that it was perhaps bit of a weak call by referee Rivero, but Vancouver fans didn't really care whether the referee made the correct all or not. Collectively they held their breath as Morales stepped up to the spot and watched as the Chilean Maestro struck a confident penalty into the back of Jon Busch's goal to open the scoring and put an end to Vancouver's goalless drought at 450 minutes.
Clearly the slim lead that the Caps took into the dressing room at half time did a lot to relieve the pressure that they have found themselves under, because this was a much different team that started the second half. The Whitecaps team we saw in the second half showed flashes of the team that we saw earlier in the year. They were relaxed and creative, and there was more of a purpose and a confidence to their play. One may even argue that the Caps were starting to find their mojo again.
In the 57th minute Vancouver extended their lead when Waston got his head to an in-swinging corner kick from Morales to open his MLS goals account. Waston, who saw an earlier header sail over the Quakes' goal, made this one count, and the relief that Vancouver had scored a second goal was palpable inside of BC Place.
San Jose, who did not really threaten David Ousted and the Vancouver goal all evening, were now more or less hanging on trying to keep it respectable. Morales almost made it three nil for the home side in the 73rd minute after Sebastian Fernandez teed the ball up beautifully with a cheeky back heel pass. Morales' curling shot was saved by a diving Busch to deny the Vancouver midfielder his second of the night.
Shortly before being replaced by Nicolas Mezquida, Morales had a goal disallowed for handball. A slow-motion replay showed that although the ball did hit Morales in the chin, he may indeed have had the ball brush his left hand as it fell to the ground. It was a disappointing moment in the match, but the Caps were not content to sit back, but despite a couple more quality chances the Caps could not find another goal.
The Whitecaps have little time to rest and celebrate because they will be heading down to Texas where they will play FC Dallas on Saturday, which will be the Caps' third game in eight days. Although tonight's win was a small step in the right direction it was quite significant in regard to the playoff race. The Whitecaps, who have been trailing the Portland Timbers for the fifth and final playoff spot in the MLS Western Conference, needed maximum points from this match to take full advantage of the game they had in hand on their rivals from the Rose City. The Caps did just that and in doing so they sent the Timbers a message:
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