In their lone home match in the month of June, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (2W-6L-8D) claimed their second win in Major League Soccer after defeating Eastern Conference high-flyers Philadelphia Union (6W-4L-4D) 1-0 on Saturday evening.
Alain Rochat's fine strike early in the first half on Bell Pitch at Empire Field ended Vancouver's long wait for a second win in their inaugural MLS campaign, as victory in East Vancouver snapped a winless run at 14 matches. Ironically, it was in the first meeting between Whitecaps FC and Philadelphia back on March 26 that started Vancouver's unwanted streak in the league. Saturday's victory was also Tom Soehn's first since becoming Whitecaps FC head coach late last month. Defeat for Philadelphia ended the Union's unbeaten streak in MLS at four matches.
"First, it’s been a tough week in the city of Vancouver, with the Canucks having such a great year and what happened there after, so this is something that the city needed," said Soehn. "Overall, Philly is always a tough team to play. You know they are going to be organized, compact, and hard to break down, and they are going to limit your chances. I give credit to our guys. The staff has worked tirelessly to prepare ourselves to continue to progress, as we are looking for the 90-minute mentality. Tonight is a good sign we are getting there."
Soehn made two changes to his starting XI for his first home game in charge. In the backline, Michael Boxall made his first appearance in nearly two months, as he played alongside captain Jay DeMerit in the centre of the Whitecaps FC defence. Alternate captain Terry Dunfield also returned to the starting line-up following CONCACAF Gold Cup duty with Canada. He played alongside Jeb Brovsky in central midfield, with Gershon Koffie making way for the Vancouver native. Union head coach Peter Nowak, meanwhile, gave new signing Veljko Paunovic his MLS debut on Saturday night.
Though it was a cool and overcast late spring evening on the Pacific National Exhibition grounds, a passionate and supportive Whitecaps FC crowd of 20,168 saw a committed, hard-working display from their side, as Vancouver were determined to take maximum points for the first time since opening day.
The first half was lively and entertaining, with Whitecaps FC looking comfortable in possession and passing from the back moving forward. They also made good use of direct balls down either flank, as they tried to get in behind the stingy Union backline.
Showing real intent to end this very long win drought, the Blue and White got their fans off their seats with a fine second goal of the season from 'Budweiser Man of the Match' Rochat on 12 minutes. Some great work from a lively-looking Davide Chiumiento saw the attacker make a forward run down the right flank before playing a give-and-go with strike partner Eric Hassli near the edge of the Union box. The playmaker then found fellow Swiss international Rochat with a pass that allowed the defender to tee up a superb left-footed strike that curled past sprawling Union goalkeeper and captain Faryd Mondragon and into the far corner of the Philadelphia net for a 1-0 Vancouver lead.
It was just the start that Soehn's side would have wanted, and the 'Caps were then unlucky not to extend their lead through Hassli on 21 minutes. The big Frenchman - who was the toast of the soccer world for his wonder strike at Seattle Sounders FC last weekend - was unable to find the target from Shea Salinas' short pass in the Union box after the winger made a dangerous attacking run down the right flank. On 33 minutes, Camilo could not keep his first-time shot on target after Rochat played a low corner into the path of the Brazilian.
Playing their first-ever match on Canada's west coast, Philadelphia's chances before the break were limited to an assured save from Whitecaps FC goalkeeper Joe Cannon to a Brian Carroll low strike and a fine piece of defending from DeMerit to cut out Justin Mapp's dangerous run and low cross in the Vancouver box.
The second half brought more of the same action, with Whitecaps FC creating the better scoring opportunities, despite not having as much possession of the ball as they would have liked. There were chances from Camilo and Hassli shortly after the restart, but a lack of finish and good goalkeeping from Mondragon kept it a one-goal match.
As they tried to get back into the game, Philadelphia let themselves down by being particularly wasteful with a number of set-piece opportunities in the second half. The visitors' best chance to equalize came moments after Mondragon needed his Union teammates to bail him out after his attempt to control the ball well outside his own box was nearly punished by Chiumiento and substitute Nizar Khalfan. Philadelphia got down the other end on 80 minutes, where from a deflected Kyle Nakazawa shot, Sebastien Le Toux was unable to direct his close-range shot on target.
As time ticked down, Whitecaps FC defended bravely and tried to hit Philadelphia on the break. It almost paid off on 85 minutes when Hassli tried to get on the end of a Chiumiento through ball, but his first touch let him down in front of an onrushing Mondragon, with the Colombian shot-stopper able to clear the danger.
The more than four minutes of time added on were incredibly agonizing on Whitecaps FC supporters, but when match referee Alex Prus finally blew his final whistle, the entire Empire Field crowd stood in unison with their Blue and White scarves raised high to salute their heroes for a job well done. Whitecaps FC players and staff returned the favour with a lap of honour in celebration.
Both Whitecaps FC and Philadelphia will now prepare for the same opponent in Eastern Conference club Sporting Kansas City next week. The Union will host Sporting KC at their PPL Park home on Wednesday night, while Whitecaps FC will face Kansas City at their brand-new LIVESTRONG Sporting Park next Saturday night.
12' - VAN - Alain Rochat (Davide Chiumiento)
Shots: Vancouver 7 - Philadelphia 8
Shots on Goal: Vancouver 2 - Philadelphia 2
Saves: Vancouver 2 - Philadelphia 1
Fouls: Vancouver 14 - Philadelphia 14
Offsides: Vancouver 4 - Philadelphia 3
Corners: Vancouver 7 - Philadelphia 5
22' - VAN - Terry Dunfield
36' - VAN - Carlos Valdes
51' - VAN - Brian Carroll
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
1.Joe Cannon; 25.Jonathan Leathers, 6.Jay DeMerit, 2.Michael Boxall, 4.Alain Rochat; 22.Shea Salinas, 12.Jeb Brovsky, 7.Terry Dunfield (28.Gershon Koffie 83'), 37.Camilo (16.Nizar Khalfan 76'); 20.Davide Chiumiento, 29.Eric Hassli
Subs not used: 24.Brian Sylvestre, 3.Bilal Duckett, 17.Omar Salgado, 31.Russell Teibert, 50.Mouloud Akloul
1.Faryd Mondragon; 25.Sheanon Williams, 4.Danny Califf, 5.Carlos Valdes, 2.Jordan Harvey (8.Roger Torres 81'); 22.Justin Mapp, 6.Stefani Miglioranzi (10.Danny Mwanga 45'), 13.Kyle Nakazawa, 7.Brian Carroll; 9.Sebastien Le Toux, 16.Veljko Paunovic (21.Michael Farfan 59')
Subs not used: 18.Zac MacMath, 3.Juan Diego Gonzalez, 17.Keon Daniel, 19.Jack McInerney