In their first Cascadia Cup match of the season, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (1W-6L-8D) claimed a memorable 2-2 away draw with Pacific Northwest rivals Seattle Sounders FC (5W-4L-7D) in a pulsating Interstate 5 derby clash on Saturday evening.
In what was the first Major League Soccer meeting between these two arch-rivals, Whitecaps FC earned a valuable away point in front of the second-largest crowd to attend an MLS match at Seattle's Qwest Field, as 36,502 witnessed Vancouver take a first-half lead before seeing three goals in the space of four highly-dramatic second-half minutes at the end of the match.
Striker Eric Hassli was the Whitecaps FC hero in The Emerald City, as the 'Budweiser Man of the Match' gave Vancouver the lead from the penalty spot in the first half. As the game entered the dying stages, Sounders FC turned things around in the last nine minutes with goals from Mauro Rosales and Osvaldo Alonso. Yet, just when another away defeat seemed to be on the cards for the 'Caps, Hassli produced a world-class finish to earn Vancouver a draw, with the equalizer sure to be a strong candidate for 'Goal of the Season' in MLS.
"Anytime you come to Seattle, there are difficult circumstances to deal with," said Whitecaps FC head coach Tom Soehn. "This is a fantastic crowd to play in front of and I thought we did a good job staying compact and organized. We got a goal in the first half and came into the break pretty pleased. I figured (Sounders FC head coach) Sigi Schmid would have them all ready to come out and play the second half. To their credit, they did a good job of keeping the ball in the second half. Going down 2-1, I credit our guys for coming back and getting the second one. We had players step up and Eric (Hassli) had a great goal."
Though never easy to earn results at Qwest Field, Saturday's draw extended Whitecaps FC's winless run in the league to 14 matches, with the Blue and White still looking for their first away win as an MLS club. The weekend stalemate was also the second straight draw in the fan-based Cascadia Cup competition, with Seattle and Portland Timbers having drawn 1-1 at Qwest Field last month.
Having been disappointed by his side's performance at Real Salt Lake last weekend, Soehn made three changes to his starting XI. Fit-again Jonathan Leathers returned to right fullback in place of youngster Bilal Duckett, while Jeb Brovsky replaced the experienced Pete Vagenas in central midfield. After serving a suspension in last Saturday's defeat at RSL, Hassli returned to partner Davide Chiumiento in attack, with Russell Teibert making way for the big Frenchman.
There has been so much anticipation regarding the revival of these Cascadia Cup derby matches this season. Saturday's game not only confirmed what everyone knew in the Pacific Northwest, it shed a very positive light on the rivalry throughout MLS and in the world of soccer.
Knowing the importance of the occasion, the Blue and White made a fine start in front of their passionate travelling support, as they dealt well with the bouncy Qwest Field turf in the opening half. The visitors created the first two chances of the match, with Camilo forcing a very good save from Sounders FC goalkeeper Kasey Keller on 13 minutes before Shea Salinas had a glorious chance for the 'Caps moments later. Gershon Koffie took a short pass from captain Jay DeMerit before slipping an exquisite through ball to the Vancouver winger. After splitting the Seattle backline, Salinas put his shot just wide of the target.
Like many derby contests in soccer, this match saw plenty of action at both ends. It did not take long for Sounders FC to test Whitecaps FC goalkeeper Joe Cannon. On 20 minutes, the former San Jose Earthquakes shot-stopper brilliantly tipped Alonso's volleyed strike over his own crossbar after initially punching clear a Seattle corner.
As excitement built, Whitecaps FC drew first blood on 29 minutes after match referee Mark Geiger awarded Vancouver a penalty following Alonso's foul on Camilo in the Seattle box. Predictably, the responsibility of the spot kick fell to Designated Player Hassli, who cheekily chipped his finish past a diving Keller and into the roof of the Sounders FC net before celebrating his third penalty - and fifth goal of the season - with the away fans in the northeast corner of Qwest Field.
It was a great advantage for Vancouver to claim in one of the league's most hostile environments, with the penalty naturally sparking a response from Seattle. On 44 minutes, Mike Fucito took a Rosales pass and got in behind the Vancouver backline. However, the striker's shot was off-target, with 'Caps defender Alain Rochat just doing enough to put the Sounders FC forward off his stride. When the halftime whistle came, the home fans showed their displeasure to the scoreline with a chorus of boos.
Trailing at home, Seattle came out in the second half and applied plenty of pressure. Yet, as the half played on, the home side got increasingly frustrated by their lack of success to find the back of Vancouver's goal. Sounders FC centre back Jhon Kennedy Hurtado had two headed chances from Seattle corners that came to nothing. At the other end, Camilo and Hassli went close with late opportunities to extend Vancouver's lead.
As Whitecaps FC tried to maintain their defensive rearguard in the dying stages, the game's events completely turned around in four incredible minutes of action that is sure to whet the appetite for future Cascadia Cup showdowns.
On 81 minutes, Sounders FC made their pressure pay dividends when Tyson Wahl's cross from the left was inadvertently flicked on by the Vancouver backline to a streaking Rosales. The Argentine's first-time finish beat Cannon to level matters at 1-1.
The equalizer gave Seattle confidence to search out a second goal and possible match winner. Three minutes later, Alonso took advantage of a 'Caps turnover before hitting a fine low strike past a sprawling Cannon to make it 2-1 to Sounders FC.
It looked to be a devastating turn of events for the 'Caps, who had performed so well for much of this road contest. Yet, as Seattle fans thought they were claiming all three derby points, Qwest Field witnessed one of the finest goals to be struck in MLS, and in any competition in world soccer, on 85 minutes. From Hurtado's errant pass, Hassli won possession on the right edge of the Sounders FC box. The Frenchman flicked the ball straight up in the air before turning on the spot and hitting a sublime volley that flew past Keller and into the far corner of the net for 2-2. It was Hassli's sixth goal of the season, but one that he and many 'Caps fans will remember for years to come. "I closed my eyes and shot," he said. "I had a lot of luck there. It works, so that is why I do it."
Hassli's brilliant strike left all who saw it in total amazement, and as the final whistle was blown, few may not remember that there was a share of the spoils between both sides, or that Whitecaps FC nearly came away with nothing from a match they led for the majority of the 90 minutes.
Whitecaps FC will now return home for their lone home game of the month, as they host MLS Eastern Conference club Philadelphia Union next Saturday night. Seattle, meanwhile, face more Canadian opposition next Saturday, as they visit Toronto FC.
29' - VAN - Eric Hassli (penalty)
81' - SEA - Mauro Rosales
84' - SEA - Osvaldo Alonso
85' - VAN - Eric Hassli
Shots: Seattle 14 - Vancouver 11
Shots on Goal: Seattle 5 - Vancouver 4
Saves: Seattle 2 - Vancouver 3
Fouls: Seattle 13 - Vancouver 12
Offsides: Seattle 1 - Vancouver 1
Corners: Seattle 6 - Vancouver 1
45' + 1 - VAN - Alain Rochat (reckless tackle)
45' + 2 - SEA - Osvaldo Rochat (dissent)
55' - VAN - Camilo (reckless tackle)
71' - VAN - Jonathan Leathers (delaying a restart)
Seattle Sounders FC
18.Kasey Keller, 7.James Riley, 31.Jeff Parke, 34.Jhon Hurtado, 5.Tyson Wahl; 3.Brad Evans, 6.Osvaldo Alonso, 10.Mauro Rosales (8.Erik Friberg 83'), 27.Lamar Neagle (21.Nate Jaqua 59'); 2.Mike Fucito (32.Miguel Montano 65'), 17.Fred Montero
Subs not used: 28.Terry Boss, 12.Leo Gonzalez, 20.Zach Scott, 25.Pat Noonan
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
1.Joe Cannon; 25.Jonathan Leathers, 6.Jay DeMerit, 50.Mouloud Akloul, 4.Alain Rochat; 22.Shea Salinas (3.Bilal Duckett 90'), 12.Jeb Brovsky (13.Michael Nanchoff 85'), 28.Gershon Koffie, 37.Camilo; 20.Davide Chiumiento (33.Peter Vagenas 73'), 29.Eric Hassli
Subs not used: 40.Kevin Guppy, 14.Greg Janicki, 17.Omar Salgado, 27.Alexandre Morfaw