In another eventful Major League Soccer encounter on Bell Pitch at Empire Field, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (1W-1L-2D) were held to a 1-1 draw by New England Revolution (1W-0L-3D) on Wednesday evening.
Following the dramatic events of the weekend, 'Caps fans were treated to more drama in this midweek encounter in East Vancouver, as the Blue and White finished Wednesday's match with nine men after referee Baldomero Toledo sent off Gershon Koffie in the first half and substitute Eric Hassli for a second bookable offence following his celebration of a second-half penalty strike that gave Vancouver the lead. Though New England had defender A.J. Soares sent off in the second half as well, substitute Ilija Stolica struck in time added on at the end of the match to keep the Revolution unbeaten at this early stage of the season.
"It’s a different feeling since last time, but it’s a point," said Whitecaps FC head coach Teitur Thordarson. "Under the circumstances, the way we managed to reorganize and get through the game, I think we did quite well. If you look at the game through 90 minutes, I think it’s not undeserved that we finished 1-1. We have had to go through the depth of the group much earlier than I thought we’d have to, and it’s good to see the players step up. We’ve seen already that the players coming off the bench really give us something."
With centre back Greg Janicki suffering an injury in the weekend draw versus Sporting Kansas City, Thordarson paired Michael Boxall and Budweiser Man of the Match Alain Rochat in the centre of the Whitecaps FC backline, with Blake Wagner moving from midfield to left fullback. As a result, Nizar Khalfan came in to play on the left-hand side of midfield.
Though spring sunshine greeted the crowd of 19,396 at the Pacific National Exhibition grounds on Vancouver's 125th birthday, Wednesday's match ended up leaving a less than satisfactory taste in the mouths of 'Caps fans after referee Toledo issued six bookings with his three red cards during the contest.
The early stages were physical and even during this first-ever MLS meeting between Whitecaps FC and the Revolution. Vancouver threatened early from two Khalfan corners, but Rochat and striker Atiba Harris saw their headers go off-target.
It was not until the midway point of the first half that Vancouver created the first good chance of the match. Camilo slipped a through ball to strike partner Harris, whose low strike produced a very good save from New England goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth, who was deputizing for the injured Matt Reis in the visitors' goal.
As proceedings neared the break, Thordarson was forced into an untimely substitution in central midfield on 38 minutes, as John Thorrington made his Whitecaps FC competitive debut after coming on for fellow alternate captain Terry Dunfield, who picked up an injury.
The Revolution then came very close to opening the scoring from a Zak Boggs corner on 43 minutes. His set-piece found weekend goalscorer Stephen McCarthy, but his header was cleared off the line by an alert Khalfan.
Excitement started to rise around Empire, but the fans' dissatisfaction with referee Toledo rose to a new level when he issued a straight red card to Koffie for alleged violent conduct. The Ghanaian caught New England midfielder Pat Phelan with his arm in an aerial challenge for the ball, with Toledo adjudging the young West African to have thrown an elbow in Phelan's face. Koffie's sending off meant Vancouver faced the second half a man short.
As a result, Thordarson reshaped his attack by introducing Hassli as his lone striker in a 4-4-1 formation, with Camilo and Harris moving into wide midfield roles to support the big Frenchman up front. The former FC Zürich man was soon into the action, earning a booking on 49 minutes after clashing with Revolution defender Kevin Alston.
Seven minutes later, Hassli scored his third goal of the season - and Whitecaps FC's first penalty strike in MLS - after Camilo was taken down in the New England box by Boggs. After striking the spot kick past Shuttleworth with his right foot, Hassli took his long-sleeve Whitecaps FC shirt off to throw into the celebrating crowd behind the south goal at Empire. Although he had another home jersey under his long-sleeve top, referee Toledo spotted the Frenchman's actions and issued a second booking and a red card to Hassli.
Now with the lead, Whitecaps FC were amazingly down to nine men for the remainder of the game. In a bid to shore up things in a reshaped 4-3-1 formation, local product Kevin Harmse made his Vancouver MLS debut after coming on for Camilo midway through the second half.
With two extra men on the pitch, Steve Nicol's Revolution struggled to get the better of Whitecaps FC goalkeeper Jay Nolly, who saved from Sainey Nyassi on 68 minutes before New England had a player of their own sent off when Soares was shown a straight red card for a late sliding challenge on Harris with 16 minutes remaining.
Now 10 Revolution players versus nine Whitecaps FC players, the visitors started to press their hosts in the dying stages, while the 'Caps did their best to stretch New England on the counter-attack. On 82 minutes, Nolly did extremely well to stop substitute Chris Tierney's free kick strike that curled over the Whitecaps FC wall. Three minutes later, New England had the ball in the Vancouver net, but Revolution substitute Stolica was adjudged offside when he headed home Tierney's cross from the left.
As the match entered four minutes of time added on, 'Caps fans rose to salute their heroes, who seemed destined to claim a victory against the odds. New England, however, had other ideas in the 93rd minute. Phelan's cross from the right found Revolution striker Zack Schilawski in the Whitecaps FC box. His downward header was controlled by Stolica at close range and half-volleyed past Nolly to earn the Revolution a last-gasp point on the road.
Though devastated not to have held on for the win, Whitecaps FC players and staff earned more praise from the home crowd for another huge effort after the final whistle.
Whitecaps FC now return to the road to complete this busy week of MLS action, as they make their first visit to two-time MLS Cup winners Houston Dynamo on Sunday afternoon. New England, meanwhile, return home from their midweek west coast trip to host CONCACAF Champions League finalists Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
55' - VAN - Eric Hassli (penalty kick)
93'+ - NE - Ilija Stolica (Zack Schilawski, Pat Phelan)
Shots: Vancouver 6 - New England 10
Shots on Goal: Vancouver 2 - New England 6
Saves: Vancouver 4 - New England 1
Fouls: Vancouver 10 - New England 14
Offsides: Vancouver 2 - New England 6
Corners: Vancouver 7 - New England 7
6' - VAN - Atiba Harris
14' - NE - Ryan Cochrane
25' - VAN - Camilo
40' - NE - Zack Schilawski
49' - VAN - Eric Hassli
56' - VAN - Eric Hassli
45' - VAN - Gershon Koffie
56' - VAN - Eric Hassli (second caution)
74' - NE - A.J. Soares
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
18.Jay Nolly; 25.Jonathan Leathers, 2.Michael Boxall, 4.Alain Rochat, 19.Blake Wagner; 8.Wes Knight (29.Eric Hassli 45'), 7.Terry Dunfield (11.John Thorrington 38'), 28.Gershon Koffie, 16.Nizar Khalfan; 37.Camilo (32.Kevin Harmse 67'), 9.Atiba Harris
Subs not used: 1.Joe Cannon, 3.Bilal Duckett, 20.Davide Chiumiento, 22.Shea Salinas
New England Revolution
34.Bobby Shuttleworth; 30.Kevin Alston, 45.Ryan Cochrane (9.Ilija Stolica 61'), 5.A.J. Soares, 3.Didier Domi; 33.Zak Boggs, 28.Pat Phelan, 21.Shalrie Joseph, 26.Stephen McCarthy (7.Kenny Mansally 57'); 15.Zack Schilawski, 17.Sainey Nyassi (8.Chris Tierney 74')
Subs not used: 40.Tim Murray, 25.Darrius Barnes, 11.Kheli Dube, 35.Ryan Kinne