By Dave Thomas
YAKIMA -- Two weeks ago, the Yakima Reds earned a hard-fought victory against the Vancouver Whitecaps developmental team because its defense stood firm against a relentless offensive attack.
Yakima tried to duplicate that effort Friday night at Marquette Stadium, but found out what the division’s other teams have already learned — it’s tough to weather the Whitecaps’ assault.
Spotting the Reds the first goal, Vancouver slowly gained control of the match, particularly in the second half, as it cruised to a 4-1 victory.
“They were sharp, and we didn’t play our best game,” said Reds goalie Robert McCurdy, who allowed a season-high in goals after having allowed just three total in his past four matches, including back-to-back shutouts in the previous two, one being a 1-0 victory at Vancouver.
“It’s very disappointing, but we knew that if we let them take control of the match, they’d know what to do,” Yakima coach Hector Vega said of the first-place Whitecaps, now 10-2-1. “They more you let them get comfortable, the tougher it is to come back on them.”
Yakima’s postseason hopes were damaged but not destroyed with the loss. The Reds, now 8-5-1, are in third place with 25 points, trailing second-place Tacoma (9-4-1), which has 28 points.
Both teams have two matches left, including the season-finale against each other in Tacoma next Saturday. If Yakima wins tonight at home against Abbotsford and next Saturday, it would earn one of the division’s two playoff berths.
“It’ll be hard to win both games, especially going to Tacoma, but I believe in these guys,” Vega said.
Yakima will need a better defensive effort than it showed Friday if it hopes to pull out those victories.
After a strong start, that included Andrew O’Brien’s goal on a header off a corner kick in the seventh minute, Yakima failed to build on that momentum, and in fact gave some of it away when a defensive breakdown allowed Vancouver to tie the match just five minutes after O’Brien scored.
Alex Semenets made a cross into the middle of the goal box, and Gagandeep Dosanjh went up between two Reds defenders and easily headed it past McCurdy.
Yakima had several good chances to break that time over the next 25 minutes, but couldn’t break through. Vancouver, meanwhile, had one clean shot — from way out — and made good on it.
Semenets took a pass about 35 yards away from the goal, but was unmarked and he boomed a shot that got just over McCurdy’s hand and under the crossbar.
“It started right at me and then tailed away into the upper corner,” McCurdy said.
Vancouver added two second-half goals on well-executed plays, showing why the Whitecaps have now scored 21 goals in five of its past six matches — and why Yakima’s shutout victory up there two weeks ago was all the more impressive.
“Back then, we had seven or eight really good scoring chances that we didn’t capitalize on,” Vancouver coach Thomas Niendorf said. “Tonight, we took advantage of those chances. That was one of our motivations tonight; showing that we’re capable of finishing.”
Part of that success was because of the Whitecaps’ dangerous combination of quickness and precision passing, as they wore down the Reds.
“They’re a quick team that likes to get behind the defense,” McCurdy said. “I don’t know if we were a little flat-footed ... but they had a couple of really good goals and one good shot (Semenets’ goal).
“We still control our own destiny. We just have to come out stronger tomorrow.”
First half: 1, Yakima, Andrew O’Brien, 7:00; 2, Vancouver, Gagandeep Dosanjh (Alex Semenets), 12:00; 3, Vancouver, Semenets, 38:00.
Second half: 4, Vancouver, Philippe Davies, 52:00; 5, Vancouver, Randy Edwini-Bonsu, 63:00.
Saves: Simon Thomas (V) 8, Robert McCurdy (Y) 5.
Shots: Vancouver 17, Yakima 16. Corner kicks: Vancouver 4, Yakima 7. Fouls: Vancouver 10, Yakima 8. Offsides: Vancouver 0, Yakima 1.