John Atkinson, Special to the Sun
Substitute Justin Moose's 89th-minute goal ensured the Whitecaps take a two-goal advantage into the Minnesota leg of their USL First Division playoff quarter-final on Sunday.
It looked like just the 26th-minute own-goal from Thunder's Jon Greenfield would separate the sides Friday night on a tricky Swangard Stadium pitch that was still decidedly damp in places. However, Moose had other ideas, shaking off the effects of a cold to calmly slot past Minnesota 'keeper Nic Platter in the dying moments of the first-leg game.
"I think it was a great win," head coach Teitur Thordarson reflected afterwards. "We played very well for the first 35-40 minutes and after that it was a physical fight. But I was very impressed with [how] the players [handled it].
"Getting the second goal was huge, very, very important. As the game went on I really couldn't see that happening.
"But sometimes when we make changes we can influence the game and all the guys who came on definitely did that."
Martin Nash, once again a driving force in midfield, felt his side was unlucky not to take a greater advantage to Minnesota.
"I think Eddie [Sebrango's] goal in the first half was a good goal, so it could have easily been 3-0," he said. "[Minnesota] maybe deserved a goal, but there was also a definite penalty that wasn't called [for us] so we could have had four.
"But it was a good result. We're up two and now have work to do, as they're a good team.
"So we'll go there and try and get the win."
Despite the tricky conditions, the Whitecaps began still attempting to play their usual passing game - and enjoyed much of the early possession. Lyle Martin almost tested Platter with a glancing header as early as the third minute, before Eduardo Sebrango was set clear by Mason Trafford in the 14th, only for Kevin Taylor to thwart him with a perfectly timed tackle.
Martin then turned provider for Sebrango, whipping in a hanging cross. However, the Cuban forward's ensuing header was easily gobbled up by Platter.
Against the run of play, Dale Weiler almost caught the home defence off guard with a dipping 22-yard volley. Vancouver goalkeeper Jay Nolly was alert to the danger, though, and smartly tipped the effort over the crossbar.
The Whitecaps continued to put the Thunder on the back foot, Martin Nash going close before Sebrango went within a whisker of breaking the deadlock. Alfredo Valente weighted a pass into the path of Sebrango in the 23rd minute and he expertly brought the ball under control, only to then weakly curl a left-footed effort wide.
Home supporters were on their feet in jubilation three minutes later when Greenfield attempted to clear Valente's innocuous-looking cross, but only proceeded to loop a header out of Platter's reach and into the top corner.
Nolly was called into action again seven minutes before the break, palming Jeremiah Bass's long-range attempt onto the post.
Vancouver then looked to have doubled their lead in the 42nd minute when Sebrango arrowed Geordie Lyall's cross emphatically past Platter. But the play was ruled offside.
© Vancouver Sun