Game 2 win can't overtake Vancouver
By Simon Heuer
The Minnesota Thunder trailed 2-0 before they even took the field for their playoff match with Vancouver on Sunday night at the National Sports Center in Blaine.
It cost them.
The Thunder pulled off a come-from-behind 4-3 victory in front of 3,811 on their home field, but it wasn't enough to advance beyond the opening round of the United Soccer League First Division playoffs. They were outscored 5-4 in the two-game aggregate scoring series against the Whitecaps, who won 2-0 in the first game of the series Friday in Vancouver.
"Extremely disappointing," Minnesota striker Luchi Gonzalez said. "We won today, so it's a little bittersweet. Obviously a little more bitter than sweet, but I think we need to keep our heads up."
All hope seemed lost when Minnesota (11-13-9) fell behind 3-1 late in the second half, but a strong surge put some spirit back into the players and fans.
In the 64th minute, Gonzalez lifted a floater to forward Melvin Tarley, who gained possession in front of Vancouver goalkeeper Jay Nolly.
Nolly slipped and fell, and Tarley, who had missed on an open net earlier in the half, booted the ball into the middle of the net, reducing the Thunder's deficit to 3-2.
The Thunder looked as though they were going to score again in the 77th minute, but Gonzalez's rebound was blocked. Thunder players argued for a handball, and striker Ricardo Sanchez was ejected.
"The refs aren't going to see everything," Thunder coach Donny Gramenz said. "We have to do a better job on our end to control our emotion."
Two minutes later, the Thunder offense was on the attack again, and Stephen de Roux knocked in a loose ball to tie the score at 3-3.
"It was exciting," Gramenz said. "It was great to see how much fight they had left in them. Even going a man down, they never gave up. It just shows the character and dedication these guys have."
The Thunder continued their attack through stoppage time, and it paid off. De Roux was streaking toward the goal when he was tripped, resulting in a penalty kick.
Frederico Moojen scored on the penalty kick, which brought on chants of "one more goal" from Thunder fans.
One more goal was all they needed to force overtime and have a shot at advancing in the playoffs, but their time eventually ran out.
"We had hope and we had faith that somehow we could turn it around," Gonzalez said. "But we definitely had our backs up against the wall."
The Whitecaps (16-8-8) arrived late for the game, delaying the start, but when the game started they took care of business early.
Just two minutes into the game, Vancouver midfielder Alfredo Valente took a cross toward the goal and knocked a pass from Charles Gbeke into the left corner of the net past Thunder goalie Nic Platter to give the Whitecaps a 1-0 lead.
"Our patience and composure in this game was gone after that first goal," Gramenz said.