By Ian Walker
The mood in the Vancouver Whitecaps dressing room moments after Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Toronto FC was disappointment. It could have been one of relief.
Players could have been thankful Toronto didn’t win the opening match of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship by a wider margin. That’s because goal differential could play a vital role in the final outcome of the three-team tournament between the Whitecaps, TFC and Montreal Impact.
The winner of the six-match, double round-robin event earns the Voyageurs Cup and entry into the CONCACAF Champions League, which features the best teams in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Vancouver-raised Kevin Harmse headed home the winning goal three minutes into the game and Toronto owned the play for most of the night. If not for Vancouver goaltender Jay Nolly, the Whitecaps would never have kept the all-Canadian matchup so tight. Nolly stopped Chad Barrett on a breakaway, Jim Brennan from just inside the penalty area and Nana Attakora-Gyan in close — and this was all within the game’s first 60 minutes.
At the other end of the pitch, Vancouver mustered just one shot on net in the first half and its best scoring chance didn’t come until the 86th minute when Marlon James looked to have tied it after managing to get a step on Toronto’s defence. James’s low shot looked destined for the far corner but for a lunging stop by goalie Stefan Frei, in what was the save of the rain-filled night.
“We’re all pretty disappointed right now, we expected a better result,” said Nolly, who was on the other end of a 1-0 shutout the last time the two teams met at BMO Field last July. “You never want to lose to Toronto or anybody for that matter. With the crowd and all the excitement, our focus was killing the first 15 minutes and obviously we didn’t do that.”
Next up for the Whitecaps in Nutrilite competition is USL-1 rival Montreal at Saputo Stadium on May 20. The Impact won last year’s tournament with a 2-1-1 record before mounting a charge to the Champions quarter-finals, highlighted by a quarter-final matchup with Santos Laguna of Mexico that drew 55,571 spectators to Olympic Stadium in February.
“It’s unfortunate we gave up a goal so early in the game; that always makes it tough,” said Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson, whose team resumes league play against the Puerto Rico Islanders on Sunday at Swangard in a rematch of last season’s USL-1 final.
“Every game is an important game in a tournament of this nature. It's good it was only one goal."
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