Caps have heart, just not series lead - The Province


Vancouver rallies twice, loses captain, but Montreal edges host side

BY MARC WEBER

Everything about Saturday's scoreline tells you that the Vancouver Whitecaps are done.

Everything in the hard numbers of a 3-2 loss to the Montreal Impact -- with the second leg of this USL-1 final headed back to La Belle Province -- points to Vancouver's season coming to an end as runners-up on Oct. 17.

But so much of what transpired in front of 5,886 fans at Swangard Stadium tells you otherwise.

It was a second half that defied belief -- until former Whitecap Eduardo Sebrango headed in the winner in the 89th minute, shocking everyone back to reality.

Vancouver, down to 10 men, battled back from a goal down, twice.

Rookie of the year Marcus Haber made it 1-1 with an effort worthy of a player of the year.

Another rookie, Wes Knight, set up possessed substitute Marlon James for the second equalizer.

And it all happened with the Caps' best player, their captain, Martin Nash, shockingly sent for an early shower after a 51st-minute tackle.

"There's a great spirit in this squad, a never-say-die attitude," said a dejected but defiant Nash. "It was a brilliant last 35-40 minutes and we're still in it."

The numbers suggest otherwise. Vancouver won on the road twice all regular season. The last time was July 31 in Rochester. Montreal is now 10-1-2 since Aug. 18 and 5-0-0 in the playoffs.

But the numbers haven't bothered this seventh-place Whitecaps team in recent weeks.

They went to second-place Carolina and first-place Portland and did what needed to be done to advance, earning a pair of ties.

They will draw on their 2-0 Nutrilite Canadian Championship win at Saputo Stadium way back on May 20. They will draw on their 2-0 home win over Toronto FC on June 2 -- the last time they played without Nash due to suspension.

They'll draw on twice battling back from 44th-minute daggers in their semifinal against Portland.

Most of all, they'll draw on how dangerous they were down to 10 men in the second half Saturday.

"If we go to Montreal with that kind of attitude anything can happen," said head coach Teitur Thordarson, who brought on James and midfielder Justin Moose after a timid first half that saw Montreal pass at will.

"It's not finished," said James. "As a team, as the playoffs continue, we've been playing better and working hard and we have to be positive."

When Haber streaked in 2-on-2 with James, slipped defender Cedric Joqueviel with a sly step-over, then ripped a right-footed shot inside the far post in minute 56, anything seemed possible.

It almost was.

Seeking a third equalizer, James rolled his stoppage-time shot inches wide of the left goal post.

"They played with confidence [in the second half], they know they can score," said Sebrango, still netting massive goals at age 36. "For us, 2-2 would feel like a loss, so the third goal was huge."

On the winner, Caps' goalkeeper Jay Nolly made an acrobatic stop off Rocco Placentino but could only tip the shot up in the air, not over the bar. Sebrango headed in the rebound.

Nolly made the save of the season around 15 minutes earlier, robbing Sebrango with a punch clearance from his back, lying on the goal line.

"I asked after him the game if it was a goal because it was so close," said Sebrango, who lost his father to cancer midway through the season. "Just to get a second chance [to score the winner], somebody was pushing for me I guess."

The Impact opened the scoring in the 45th minute when defender Stephen deRoux's cross bounced in off Caps' defender Shaun Pejic.

Forward Peter Byers made it 2-1 Montreal in the 63rd, slipping the ball through Nolly's legs from a tough angle.

mweber@theprovince.com

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