Character and fitness play their part in Empire Field comeback
It's hard to know where to begin with Saturday's 3-3 draw at Empire Field. For all the drama and excitement that unfolded in the last few minutes versus Sporting Kansas City, many who were in attendance could have interpreted the weekend result in several different ways.
Some may feel they were witness to a sporting miracle, having seen the 'Caps erase a three-goal deficit to earn a point in time added on, or some may have seen it as some type of magician's act. Even the idea that it might have been the opening night of a gripping stage play was surely considered by some.
For all the impressions that were made, Whitecaps FC showed all in Major League Soccer that they are a side that does not know when they are beaten and that they may also be one of the fittest teams in the league. Those factors played a huge role in allowing Teitur Thordarson's side to pull off a remarkable comeback against their foes from the American Midwest.
Former Sporting KC man and current Whitecaps FC defender Jonathan Leathers is sure to remember April 2, 2011, for years to come. "A lot of teams would give up," he said of Saturday's draw. "It shows the resiliency and character within our team. Obviously, that comes from the coaching staff teaching you how to think, how to battle back, and how to fight. It’s tremendous to be a part of a game like that. Seeing is believing, so now that I’ve seen it, I know we can do it going forward."
'Caps fans played a role in the draw. When Atiba Harris scored Vancouver's first goal, supporters did their best to help the Blue and White complete the turnaround. It was also in those dying stages that Vancouver's ability to maintain a high tempo to their play was very noticeable, as Kansas City struggled to match the home side's energy. "They’re guys were dropping like flies and we just kept coming," said Wes Knight, who earned a first-ever MLS start in a Whitecaps FC uniform on Saturday. "The fans could see it too, and we continued to slowly build momentum. The crowd was loud when we scored our first franchise goal against Toronto FC, but I think on that third goal, they were even louder. It’s a great confidence boost. It feels like three points."
Thordarson himself described how important it was for him and his coaching staff to show his squad that a result was always possible. "My only thought was to turn things around and get a result. That was the only thing in my mind and I believed it would happen," he said after the match. "It's important that the players see that the coaching staff believe it can happen because if we don’t believe it can be done, the players won't believe it can be done either."
While fatigue and playing on turf were factors that Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes pointed to in his side's inability to hold on to the lead in Vancouver, he acknowledged the atmosphere of Empire Field as being a positive factor for MLS. "Everybody in the league is working hard to have the environment as we have experienced today. All of that helps with the entertainment that you put on the field," Vermes said. "Today, the crowd helped Whitecaps FC stay in the game and that’s excellent for the league and for the game. Hopefully, it continues to grow like that."