Playing their final training match of preseason, Vancouver Whitecaps FC suffered a 1-0 home defeat to MLS Western Conference rivals Colorado Rapids on Saturday afternoon.
Jamie Smith's late strike gave the defending MLS Cup champions victory in this first-ever meeting between Whitecaps FC and the Rapids at Empire Field. Though the 'Caps showed plenty of promise in the first half, Colorado looked an improved side after halftime and claimed the friendly win in the end.
"I thought our guys worked very hard today, and there was good spirit in the team," 'Caps head coach Teitur Thordarson said after the match. "We have many young players who we think are going to adjust well to the level of MLS this season, so it was important for them to experience a game like this one today against Colorado. As the season goes on, those players will grow into the league and the standard of play."
On a cold and wet afternoon in East Vancouver, Thordarson played an experienced line-up in this final tune-up before next Saturday's MLS debut at home to Canadian arch-rivals Toronto FC. Included in Vancouver's starting XI was new Designated Player signing Eric Hassli, who played alongside Atiba Harris in the home side's attack. Colorado, meanwhile, were unchanged from the side that played Seattle Sounders FC in the Community Shield on Wednesday night.
Though it was an invited crowd that took in Saturday's game at Empire, those in attendance got a first-hand glimpse of what new arrival Hassli will offer the Blue and White this season. The Frenchman created two very good chances on nine minutes - the first opportunity being set up by Alain Rochat's forward ball, with the combination being a creation of two former FC Zürich players. Hassli controlled the ball in the Rapids box before striking his shot straight at Colorado goalkeeper Matt Pickens. Seconds later, the big forward hit a right-footed shot just wide of the target from the edge of the Rapids box.
Hassli's strike partner Harris also caused Colorado's backline some trouble in the first half, as he turned Rapids defender Scott Palguta in the visitors' box before shooting off-target on 29 minutes. Six minutes later, Russell Teibert's free kick from the left flank was played to an unmarked Terry Dunfield, whose side-footed half-volley flew just wide of goal.
Colorado's first-half chances were limited to off-target free kick efforts by Smith and midfielder Jeff Larentowicz. On 37 minutes, striker Conor Casey was unable to direct his header on goal after connecting with Brian Mullan's cross from the right.
After a goalless first half, Thordarson changed goalkeepers for the start of Vancouver's final 45 minutes of preseason, as Joe Cannon came on for Jay Nolly. The former San Jose Earthquakes shot-stopper was then tested on 53 minutes, as Omar Cummings hit a fierce strike on target after a Rapids short corner. It was the first save that either 'Caps keeper had to make in the match.
Two minutes later, Whitecaps FC had their best opportunity after the break. Teibert made a dangerous run towards the byline before forcing Pickens into a diving save off his tight-angled strike. The rebound fell kindly to the onrushing Dunfield to finish from close range, but the Canadian international put his shot high and wide of the target.
As with most training matches, both sides made numerous substitutions during the course of the second half. It was also the Rapids that started to show more bite, as they created several good scoring chances after the hour mark through Smith, Larentowicz, and substitute Sanna Nyassi.
The decisive moment of the match came on 79 minutes, as Colorado scored their match winner on the counter-attack. The speedy Nyassi broke into the Vancouver box on the right flank and cut the ball across to the unmarked Smith. The Scottish midfielder curled a right-footed shot off the head of 'Caps centre back Michael Boxall, who was on the goal line, and into the top corner of the goal.
Colorado's goal was disappointing for Thordarson's side to concede. Though youngsters Long Tan and Omar Salgado tried their best to find an equalizer in Vancouver's attack, it was the Rapids that held on for the win in their final preseason game before next Saturday's season opener at home to another MLS expansion side in Portland Timbers.
As for Whitecaps FC, their focus now turns to next Saturday afternoon and their much-anticipated MLS debut versus Toronto FC at Empire Field.
79' – COL - Jamie Smith (Sanna Nyassi)
Shots: Vancouver 9 - Colorado 8
Shots on Goal: Vancouver 3 - Colorado 3
Saves: Vancouver 2 - Colorado 3
Fouls: Vancouver 14 - Colorado 6
Corners: Vancouver 2 - Colorado 6
Offsides: Vancouver 1 - Colorado 2
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
18.Jay Nolly (1.Joe Cannon 45'); 25.Jonathan Leathers, 14.Greg Janicki, 2.Michael Boxall, 4.Alain Rochat (12.Jeb Brovsky 75'); 16.Nizar Khalfan (8.Wes Knight 58'), 28.Gershon Koffie (27.Alexandre Morfaw 58', 15.Philippe Davies 90'), 7.Terry Dunfield, 31.Russell Teibert (19.Blake Wagner 60'); 9.Atiba Harris (23.Long Tan 75), 29.Eric Hassli (17.Omar Salgado 58')
18.Matt Pickens; 29.Scott Palguta, 3.Drew Moor, 22.Marvell Wynne, 6.Anthony Wallace; 11.Brian Mullan (23.Sanna Nyassi 71'), 4.Jeff Larentowicz, 25.Pablo Mastroeni (16.Ross LaBauex 79'), 20.Jamie Smith; 9.Conor Casey (19.Andre Akpan 76'), 14.Omar Cummings (12.Quincy Amarikwa 71')