Friday evening’s 5:30PM PDT kick-off was always going to present a difficult, chilly evening of soccer. Conditions at kick-off saw winds around the 27KPH mark and noted to be as high as 40 KPH hindering both teams.
Marc Dos Santos shook up his lineup following the home loss to LA Galaxy, sticking with In-beom Hwang on the left flank while bringing Scott Sutter, Fredy Montero and Yordy Reyna into the starting lineup.
With both the Vancouver Whitecaps and Chicago Fire coming into the match looking for a positive result, it looked like a match that could be a cagey affair through the first half. Chicago has gotten their first win of the season out of the way, but came in having drawn two and lost two, through five matches to start the season.
The Fire were certainly the more positive team through the first half. Aleksandar Katai showed no discouragement to the idea of running at Ali Adnan down the left side, and he got off an early shot from distance that forced Max Crepeau into the games first save. As the half wore on, both teams continued to show difficulty coping with the wind.
The ‘Caps though struggled to link together meaningful passes through the first 45 minutes, with just 42% possession and a dismal 71% pass success rate. The Fire on the other hand, with the added possession found and took on several shots from distance, with Katai, Nicolas Gaitan and Bastian Schweinsteiger all taking shots on and finding the target.
The latter, from Schweinsteiger looked to swerve on the way towards Maxime Crepeau’s goal, which the goalkeeper spilled into the path of CJ Sapong who fired wide from close range.
With the Fire continuing to pile on the pressure, Katai was again the primary creator, again giving Adnan difficulties down the right flank. He made the Iraqi international look foolish, sitting him on his behind, before being allowed time and space to size up a shot from 15 yards, but again, Crepeau was there with the save.
That was pretty much it though, as both teams struggled to link play and make any clear chances in the first half. Needless to say I’ve seen better first halves.
The Fire started the second half brightly, as they won an early corner. From the set piece they went short to Katai who fired over from close range.
But it wasn’t long after that when the ‘Caps got some rhythm in the game. Whether it was the change in direction as the wind was now moving upfield with the ‘Caps as opposed to against them in the first half, the midfielders suddenly started linking together better and some chances fell for them high up the pitch.
Fredy Montero pressed his former Sporting Lisbon teammate Marcelo into an error near Chicago corner flag and raced towards the goal only to be denied by a trailing foot from Bastian Schweinsteiger.
With the pressure mounting, the ‘Caps forced the breakthrough in the 52’ minute. Following a cross from Jon Erice that David Ousted felt he absolutely had to chase down in the box. The ball sprung free for Yordy Reyna who managed to fire home the half-a-half-chance from way out by right hand channel and beyond the Chicago Fire penalty area.
Chicago looked to respond, again, generating a slew of opportunities from distance, as efforts from Sapong, Dax McCarty and Gaitan all flew past Crepeau’s goal.
Marc Dos Santos looked to inject some energy into his team, with Lucas Venuto coming on for the goal scorer, Yordy Reyna on 65 minutes, shortly followed by Joaquin Ardaiz’s introduction in place of Fredy Montero.
It should be said that Montero looked much livelier on Friday evening, and perhaps fatigue is beginning to catch up to the Colombian. At this point it’s 8 months since his season began in Portugal, so perhaps a breather last week was in order to get him back towards his best.
As for the game, both Venuto and Ardaiz brought an energy level that nearly created breakthroughs for the ‘Caps. The former immediately won a corner upon his introduction, the first of the match for the ‘Caps, while the latter did what he does.
Ardaiz brought a powerful presence to the front of the line which combined with his pace, put both Marcelo and Schweinsteiger under pressure in the middle of the Chicago defence. It didn’t even take him 3 minutes, before he latched onto a first time pass from Felipe that allowed him to pick the ball up just over the halfway line and race toward the Fire goal. From there, Ardaiz let loose a powerful left footed shot that beat David Ousted but just didn’t dip enough and hit the cross bar.
Still playing with the lead, the ‘Caps were organized in defence, limiting the Fire to anything more than shots from distance for almost the entirety of the match. Just as everything looked like it was going to be the first win and 3 important points, the ugly head of VAR reared itself again.
Video Assistant Referee Daniel Radford felt that in the 84’ minute he needed to notify Jair Marrufo, who up until that point had a very good game in the middle, that he felt that a clear and obvious error had been made. Somehow, Doneil Henry was penalized for a handball that was kicked onto his arm/face/chest/jersey from point blank range by a falling bicycle kick from Nico Gaitan. Marrufo awarded the penalty, which Nemanja Nikolic and his greedy little no chances through the entire game feet jumped all over and fired into Crepeau’s net.
With the ‘Caps clearly seething (or maybe just me and everyone else supporting the Whitecaps) the ball fell to CJ Sapong after a failed clearance by Erice in the 88’ minute. Somehow, someway, Crepeau closed the angle down and made a save that earned the team a point from point blank range.
In the end, it’s a game that has left a bitter feeling in the mouth as we head into the rest of the weekend. The ‘Caps now return home to and begin preparations for their match against the red hot LAFC attack, who visit BC Place on Wednesday evening.