It was a tale of what might been for Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Saturday. Playing their first away match in Major League Soccer, things were going well - at least for about the first hour in Chester, Pennsylvania.
As in so many cases in soccer, moments alter the course of a match. Such was the case with Eric Hassli's second booking and subsequent red card near the hour mark, and Carlos Ruiz's eventual winner for Philadelphia Union in the Eastern Conference club's first-ever home opener at PPL Park.
While some will look at what Vancouver lost in terms of an away result and a one-match suspension for Hassli, the Blue and White can also draw a lot of positives from the narrow defeat in Delaware County.
International call-ups and injuries meant four new faces earned starts against Philadelphia. Among those to impress was Greg Janicki, who looked very solid alongside Alain Rochat in the centre of Vancouver's backline. "Personally, I felt great out there in the hostile environment," said the former D.C. United man. "Yet, when we were down a man, things changed. It was kind of a challenge after that."
'Caps fans will also be encouraged by the performance of experienced MLS goalkeeper Joe Cannon, who replaced Jay Nolly on Saturday. The former San Jose Earthquakes custodian showed he remains a top shot-stopper in the league, with Cannon making a notable stop from Ruiz in the second half. “It felt good to just get in there," said the 36-year-old. "Being that it was my first competitive game for Vancouver, I was almost overly intense and just completely focused on my task. I’m glad I could play 90 minutes, but I'm also very disappointed, as I wish we got a better result for our fans.”
While the 'Caps look to rebound with a pair of home games against Sporting Kansas City and New England Revolution early next month, Philadelphia will have turned some heads with a fine start to their sophomore season in MLS. The Union not only claimed maximum points over Vancouver and Houston Dynamo in the past week, Peter Nowak's side did so by earning two clean sheets.
Union centre back Danny Califf thinks Philadelphia look a far better defensive unit this season. "Last year, we gave up the least amount of shots, but conceded the most goals," he said. "Now, we aren't giving up a lot of shots or making silly mistakes. There are no back passes being picked off and the shots that do come through, we take care of them. We are riding high at the moment."