Whenever I think of a match between the Vancouver Whitecaps and the New York Red Bulls, my mind invariably leaps to the 4-1 drubbing at BC Place that marked Carl Robinson's inaugural game as head coach. That game had it all: goals, a win, a raucous home crowd... what could possibly offer more excitement and memories than that? Well, tonight's game certainly made a case for itself.
The drama started early in this one, as referee Jorge Gonzalez whistled Steven Beitashour for a penalty on Sal Zizzo before the match was even five minutes old. Beitashour was incredulous at the call but when you take out the legs of an attacker as clumsily as that, expect a whistle. As it turned out, Beitashour was partially correct as the replay showed the foul took place just outside the box and should have been a free kick, not a penalty. Luckily for Beitashour, David Ousted, as he has so often this season, bailed out his team with a sterling save on Bradley Wright-Phillips. As great as that moment was, it should've been somewhat tainted as Pa-Modou Kah could be seen encroaching over the penalty circle. Fortunately, Gonzalez missed it and the save stood.
Think that was it for drama? Think again. After ignoring a penalty shout from Octavio Rivero in the 10th minute, Mr. Gonzalez put himself squarely in the spotlight for all the post-game commentary with an 11th-minute straight red to Sacha Kljestan for getting tangled up with Kendall Waston after the whistle had gone for a NYRB corner. Looking at the initial replay angle, it's tough to see what the card-worthy infraction is. Considering the size of Waston, you'd think it would have to be a mighty blow to fell the big Costa Rican. If it was a dive, there goes the last shred of doubt this team held with referees. If not, I'd love to know exactly what dropped Waston.
Regardless of it being a dive or a nut-shot, it left the hosts down to 10 men with plenty of soccer left to play. The Whitecaps wasted little time capitalizing as Kekuta Manneh made it 1-0 in the 15th minute with an acrobatic tap-in in the box. It was a great goal for the kid they call "Scooter" but take a look at how that goal built up: Gershon Koffie claims the ball, lifts his head up and picks out the returning Cristian Techera. Techera then pivots and fires a no-look long-ball for Steven Beitashour to run on. In space, Beitashour delivers a sublime cross and Manneh obliges his team's hard work with a suitable finish. Now that's the kind of goal I want to see more of - teamwork to build, speed to set up and a clinical finish. Well done, 'Caps!
Meanwhile, Octavio Rivero is still having trouble finding the back of the net. He found the post with an effort in the 18th minute and again on an offside play in the 33rd, which you'd think only adds to his frustration as he tries to rediscover his pre-everyone-knows-about-me-now form. Still, his off-the-ball work continues to be solid and as long as somebody is putting the ball in the back of the net, Rivero can be a target/defensive forward for as long as he wants. When the scoring isn't happening, then we have problems.
Other than some buzzing in dangerous areas by Manneh, there wasn't a lot to speak of in between those two Rivero chances, nor after as halftime approached. The 'Caps were more than content to sit back, pick their attacking points, possess the ball for long stretches and snuff out any Red Bulls counter-attacks that popped up. At the break, the road team held the advantage in shots (6 to 2), passing accuracy (83% to 72%) and possession (58% to 42%). Against a ten-man side, that's about what you'd expect.
What the Whitecaps appeared not to expect was for New York to come out swinging at the second half whistle. Anatole Bertrand Abang replaced Sal Zizzo for the Red Bulls at halftime and the home team promptly went on the front foot, pressing hard and creating no small number of attacking forays and chances. This is about what we expected New York to be like at home, though it's somewhat concerning that they were able to get this kind of offense despite being undermanned. The pressure would pay off as Mike Grella forced Koffie into making a tough challenge - not his first one of the evening - that ultimately earned the midfielder a yellow card. That card is a meaningful one, as it suspends Koffie for next week's match against New England. Matias Laba would go into the book shortly thereafter, putting the Whitecaps' midfield in a perilous state. Then, to cap it off in the 65th minute, Jorge Gonzalez whistled Beitashour for another penalty, this time for what appeared to be a jersey tug on Abang. Another soft penalty? Perhaps, but it didn't matter to Ousted who again made the save on a Bradley Wright-Phillips shot, this time straight down the middle. If Ousted isn't in the conversation for "Goalkeeper of the Year", I have no idea what else he has to do. Score a goal from his own side of midfield, maybe?
Perhaps sensing desperation, both coaches shuffled their line-ups. Matt Miazga came on for Ronald Zunar, Deybi Flores(!) replaced Matias Laba and Kianz Froese(!!) stepped in for Kekuta Manneh. Three youngsters in the final twenty minutes of the game? Yes, please! Even better, another youngster(ish), Nicolas Mezquida picked that time to put on his shooting boots, testing Robles with a stinging shot from distance that the NYRB 'keeper had to be sharp on to push out for a corner. Youth wouldn't just be served there though, as Froese would make his mark on the game with less than fifteen minutes to go. After forcing a turnover, Froese put the ball on the feet of Rivero to start the counter. Rivero then sprung Froese with a return pass and the VWFC Residency graduate made no mistake putting the ball between Robles' legs for his first ever Major League Soccer goal. See, this is why you #PlayTheKids - good things happen. Well, unless you're New York, I suppose, since Miazga was hung out to dry by the Vancouver counter.
You'd be forgiven if you thought a goal from a teenager would break the spine of the short-handed Red Bulls. You'd be wrong. Quick as a blink, New York found their goal courtesy of half-time substitute Abang. After a great cross by Chris Duvall, Abang made excellent contact first-time and stung a wicked volley into the corner, beating Ousted and pulling the home team to within one. It was almost equalized, too, as Manolo Sanchez (who was subbed in for Wright-Phillips after the Froese goal) took a shot from distance following a bizarre, tricky bounce that fooled Kah. Thankfully, Ousted managed to get down at full stretch and deflect the shot out.
After Techera nearly iced the game with a one-on-one effort that ended up being one-on-three after a little too much fancy stepover footwork, Russell Teibert entered the game for Mezquida - a wise substitution to see the game out, considering Teibert's rabid-terrier-esque box-to-box style of play. Unfortunately, the presence of Teibert couldn't stop Waston from making a rough tackle outside the penalty area in stoppage time, earning him a yellow card and a suspension of his own for the New England game. (Suddenly, that New England game is looking a mighty daunting ask for one point, let alone three.) That would be the most action during the four minutes of stoppage time, as the 'Caps managed to see out the rest of the game without any further ado.
15' - (VAN) Kekuta Manneh (Steven Beitashour, Cristian Techera)
77' - (VAN) Kianz Froese (Octavio Rivero)
82' - (NYRB) Anatole Bertrand Abang (Chris Duvall)
11' - (NYRB) Sacha Kljestan (R)
60' - (VAN) Gershon Koffie
63' - (VAN) Matias Laba
90'+1 - (VAN) Kendall Waston
45' (NYRB) Anatole Bertrand Abang for Sal Zizzo
68' (NYRB) Matt Miazga for Ronald Zubar
70' (VAN) Deybi Flores for Matias Laba
71' (VAN) Kianz Froese for Kekuta Manneh
77' (NYRB) Manolo Sanchez for Bradley Wright-Phillips
88' (VAN) Russell Teibert for Nicolas Mezquida