By Simon Fudge/whitecapsfc.com
Vancouver Whitecaps FC took a huge step towards winning the 2009 Nutrilite Canadian Championship after a 2-0 home win over Major League Soccer club Toronto FC on Tuesday evening.
Ansu Toure's first two goals as a Whitecaps player gave the USL First Division champions a third-straight victory to end their campaign in the three-club competition. The win takes the 'Caps into sole possession of first place in the championship standings, with TFC now needing a victory by four goals in the tournament's final match at Montreal Impact on Thursday, June 18, to have any chance of winning the Voyageurs Cup and Canada's lone spot in the 2009-10 CONCACAF Champions League.
Though TFC created quality chances to score on Tuesday, the 'Caps put in a memorable performance at Swangard to claim their second win all-time over the Southern Ontario club, with the two-goal scoreline being the Whitecaps biggest winning margin over a club from MLS in their history.
Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson made four changes to the side that started last Saturday's 2-0 defeat at Pacific Northwest rivals Portland Timbers in USL-1. Three of the changes came in the backline, with Lyle Martin making his first start of the season at right fullback, while Wes Knight pushed up to the right-hand side of midfield. Justin Moose made way after picking up an foot injury. At centre back, Jeff Parke replaced Justin Thompson, while Takashi Hirano returned to his usual left fullback position in place of Mason Trafford. The other change came in central midfield, as Gordon Chin replaced captain Martin Nash, who was suspended from Tuesday's match after picking up two yellow cards in the competition.
Toronto FC interim head coach Chris Cummins also made four changes to the side that started last Saturday's 3-0 defeat at Houston Dynamo in MLS. Canadian international goalkeeper Greg Sutton replaced Stefan Frei, who missed Tuesday's match with a foot injury, while former Whitecaps player Kevin Harmse replaced centre back Marco Velez. With Amado Guevara and Marvell Wynne away on FIFA World Cup qualifying duty with Honduras and USA respectively, strikers Danny Dichio and Pablo Vitti came into the visitors' starting XI.
On a very warm midweek evening in the Lower Mainland, a sold-out Swangard Stadium crowd of 5,688 saw the Whitecaps look the better side for the majority of the first half.
Vancouver's intent to attack came as early as three minutes, with Marcus Haber putting a tame header wide of goal after Charles Gbeke had headed back a 'Caps short corner to his strike partner at the near post.
In fact, the early stages proved even and competitive, with Chin and central midfield teammate Ethan Gege looking particularly bright for the home side, while TFC looked very good with their one-touch passing play.
The first real chance fell to the Blue and White on 17 minutes, but after TFC centre back Adrian Serioux failed to properly clear Toure's corner from the right, Chin saw his fierce goal-bound shot deflect off Dichio and away for another 'Caps corner.
It was not until the Whitecaps had won six corners that TFC created a half-chance through Sam Cronin on 22 minutes, but his shot from the edge of the Whitecaps box flew over the crossbar.
Then a scary moment on 25 minutes, as Martin and Dichio suffered a clash of heads in the Whitecaps half after the pair went up to challenge for the ball. Both players were able to recover and continue on in the match.
Vancouver's sense of urgency was infectious in their desire to get forward and attack their MLS foes. On the half-hour mark, Toure made a fine run before rolling a shot just wide of the target.
A minute later, however, the Whitecaps made the vital breakthrough. Haber played a ball out to the right-hand side to Knight from the edge of the TFC box. The youngster then connected with a fine cross that forced Sutton to only half clear the ball with his outstretched arm. The loose ball fell kindly for an unmarked Toure to score his first-ever goal in a Whitecaps uniform and give his side a priceless lead.
With the home fans celebrating the lead, the goal seemed to bring TFC to life, and on 35 minutes, Whitecaps goalkeeper Jay Nolly needed to clear away Chad Barrett's fine cross from the right for a corner.
Three minutes later, Martin had to pull off some defensive heroics to deny Dwayne De Rosario from equalizing for TFC. The midfielder beat the onrushing Nolly with his chipped finish after latching on to Vitti's forward ball, but Martin was able to track back and clear the danger away. On 41 minutes, Vitti himself was unlucky not to level matters when he struck the post after De Rosario had found the Argentine forward on the right-hand side.
Two minutes of time added on were played before both sides went to the halftime break, with the 'Caps holding the all-important one-goal lead.
The start of the second half saw the temperature rise on the pitch from the restart, with Gbeke forcing TFC defender Nana Attakora to partially block his close-range effort that Sutton was able to save on 47 minutes.
Three minutes later, Barrett squandered the first of two big chances for the visitors. After Hirano had fouled Vitti near the edge of the Whitecaps box, De Rosario found Barrett with his free kick into the box, but the TFC striker headed the opportunity over the crossbar. On 52 minutes, Nolly came up big to stop an unmarked Barrett on the goal line after the former Chicago Fire forward had a free header on target from another De Rosario free kick.
The intensity of the match was also rising, and TFC's frustration was growing. On 56 minutes, captain Jim Brennan was booked for his robust challenge on Knight near the halfway line. Three minutes later, Trafford replaced Gage in central midfield and went on to have a fine performance in a substitutes' role alongside Chin.
Knowing a draw was good enough for their aspirations, TFC kept pressing for an equalizer, with Carl Robinson forcing a good save from Nolly before Martin struck a weak shot into the arms of a diving Sutton at the other end seconds later.
Then a costly moment for TFC, as Harmse was booked for a foul on Toure on 63 minutes. The booking means he will miss Toronto's final championship match in Montreal. Three minutes later, De Rosario could only find the arms of Nolly with a turn and shot.
The home side then had to ride their luck in the latter stages of the match. On 76 minutes, Parke needed to deflect Cronin's shot out for a corner after De Rosario had found Dichio with a cross that the TFC striker nodded into the path of his teammate. Nolly then had save from De Rosario a minute later before Vitti rolled another Toronto chance wide of goal on 79 minutes.
TFC's lack of a cutting edge in front of goal cost them dearly, as on 81 minutes, the Whitecaps took a huge step to winning the tournament with a crucial second goal from Toure. The winger played a forward ball to Gbeke in the TFC box before the big striker held up possession and played a return pass to the talented Liberian. Toure eluded one challenge before moving into the TFC box and unleashing an unstoppable left-foot shot that flew past a diving Sutton to make it 2-0.
The goal brought joy and delight to the home fans at Swangard, with 'Caps supporters then getting their first glimpse of midfielder Kenold Versailles in action. The Haiti international replaced the hard-working Haber on 83 minutes, with the Vancouver striker coming off to a standing ovation.
Though three minutes of time added on were played, the final whistle brought scenes of celebration not seen since last October's USL-1 Championship Final when the Whitecaps defeated Puerto Rico Islanders, with Thordarson doing a front flip in jubilation of a superb Whitecaps performance.
The Whitecaps will now turn their attentions back to USL-1 matters, with Vancouver set to host another Canadian rival in Montreal at Swangard in the second match of a doubleheader on Sunday evening. TFC, meanwhile, return home to Toronto's BMO Field, where they will host Los Angeles Galaxy in MLS action on Saturday.
31' - VAN - Ansu Toure
81' - VAN - Ansu Toure (Charles Gbeke)
Shots: Toronto 15 – Vancouver 9
Saves: Toronto 4 – Vancouver 6
Fouls: Toronto 11 – Vancouver 9
Offsides: Toronto 7 – Vancouver 4
Corners: Toronto 4 – Vancouver 6
56' - TOR - Jim Brennan
63' - TOR - Kevin Harmse
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
1.Jay Nolly; 6.Wesley Charles, 22.Takashi Hirano, 24.Lyle Martin, 27.Jeff Parke; 8.Wes Knight, 16.Ansu Toure, 20.Ethan Gage (18.Mason Trafford 59'), 28.Gordon Chin; 14.Marcus Haber (13.Kenold Versailles 82'), 98.Charles Gbeke
Subs not used: 99.Diego, 2.Marco Reda, 4.Justin Thompson, 11.Dever Orgill, 25.Tyrell Burgess
1.Greg Sutton; 3.Nana Attakora, 5.Kevin Harmse (4.Marco Velez 83'), 11.Jim Brennan (13.Johann Smith 83'), 15.Adrian Serioux; 2.Sam Cronin, 8.Pablo Vitti, 14.Dwayne De Rosario, 33.Carl Robinson; 9.Danny Dichio, 19.Chad Barrett (10.Rohan Ricketts 67')
Subs not used: 18.Brian Edwards, 32.Emmanuel Gomez