VANCOUVER, BC - the Vancouver Whitecaps FC2 (8W-13L-5D) were officially eliminated from the USL Western Conference playoff race after falling to the visiting Sacramento Republic by a score of 2-1 on Sunday afternoon.
"I don't think we were very good in the first half," said WFC2 head coach Alan Koch. "I think in the second half we played more of our game: we possessed the ball, we went at them, and we created some chances. I would like to have gotten something out of the match, but if we played like we did in the second half for the entire ninety minutes, then maybe that would be the case today."
With many of the MLS clubs fielding USL teams this season the Republic, who are frequently rumoured as a potential market for future MLS expansion, are one of only a handful of stand-alone teams left in the league. The loss against the Republic on Sunday drops the Thundercaps' record against stand-alone USL teams to 3W-6L-2D for the year.
"I don't think our approach (against stand-alone USL teams) is any different. I think what we're playing against is very different," said Koch. "Most of the stand-alone teams are a lot older than us. Most of the time in professional sports when you're older it's experience and it's the little details in the games that make the difference."
Despite the losing in front of an enthusiastic crowd at UBC Thunderbird Stadium, there were some bright spots to the match. Midfielder Marco Bustos combined with Victor Blasco in the sixty-sixth minute to draw WFC2 level and give the home fans hope that the playoff dream was still alive. Bustos' goal was his fifth in as many matches and ties him with striker Caleb Clarke, who also has seven goals, for the WFC2 scoring lead.
"That's not all so important," said Bustos when asked about the scoring lead. "The most important thing is winning. On the goal I saw Victor (Blasco) and he had the ball in some space and he played a good pass to me, and I got around the goalie and had an easy goal."
Bustos has had a solid season for WFC2, but his sights are firmly fixed on the Whitecaps' first team and he believes that if he continues to deliver "good, consistent performances" then he will get the MLS minutes that he desires.
"It (playing for WFC2) has benefited me a lot coming back from injury. I think it's good for me to come here and get my confidence playing with these guys because it's a blessing to be here with this organization," said Bustos.
Another player making a good impression this afternoon was 17-year-old North Vancouver native Thomas Gardner, who replaced team captain Tyler Rosenlund in the seventy-eighth minute.
"I'm ecstatic to be honest," said Koch when asked about Gardner's USL debut. "Obviously, when you throw a young player out there you hope for the best, and knowing he's a good player we knew he'd do relatively well. He kept possession, he made some insightful passes and he dealt with the physical side of the game. We're very, very pleased with his first professional game, and hopefully he can build on that."
Sadly, when it was all over it was the two-goal performance from Sacramento forward Justin Braun, who played for several MLS clubs prior to joining the Republic, that will stick in the fan's collective memory. Ironically, Braun's goals not only secured a playoff berth for the Republic, but they also ended the Thundercaps' hopes of making the playoffs in their inaugural USL season.
The Thundercaps have two matches remaining in their season, and play the Orange County Blues FC on Sunday, September 13th at Thunderbird Stadium at 3 p.m.
29' - SAC - Justin Braun (Tommy Thompson)
66' - VAN - Marco Bustos (Victor Blasco)
71' - SAC - Justin Braun (Emrah Klimenta)
Shots: VAN 6 - SAC 10
Saves: VAN 4 - SAC 1
Fouls: VAN 13 - SAC 15
Corners: VAN 2 - SAC 4
38' - SAC - Michael Daly
52' - SAC - James Kiffe
59' - SAC - Agustin Cazarez
Whitecaps FC 2
70.Paolo Tornaghi; 50.Sahil Sandhu, 41.Jackson Farmer, 54.Craig Nitti, 62.Deklan Wynne; 58.Will Seymore, 45.Tyler Rosenlund © (64.Thomas Gardner 78'); 25.Andre Lewis, 32.Marco Bustos, 42.Jordan Haynes (48.Victor Blasco 56'); 34.Caleb Clarke
Substitutes not used
24.Marco Carducci, 47.Jovan Blagojevic, 49.Mackenzie Pridham, 51.Billy Schuler, 56.Ian Christianson
Sacramento Republic FC
1.Dominik Jakubek; 20.James Kiffe, 12.Nemanja Vukovic, 21.Michael Daly, 23.Emrah Klimenta; 5.Danny Barrera, 6.Agustin Cazarez, 16.Tommy Thompson (9.Gabe Gissie 74'); 8.Rodrigo Lopez, 17.Justin Braun ©, 10.Thomas Stewart (22.Mark Sherrod 56')
Substitutes not used
2.Derek Foran, 11.Max Alvarez, 13.Adnan Gabeljic, 14.Cameron Iwasa, 25.Joaquin Rivas