In the first of two Canadian derby clashes this week, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (2W-8L-8D) suffered a 1-0 away defeat to arch-rivals Toronto FC (3W-7L-9D) in Major League Soccer action on Wednesday evening.
An early second-half penalty from Nick Soolsma helped TFC end their winless run in MLS at nine matches and avenge a season-opening defeat to the 'Caps at Empire Field back on March 19. It was Toronto FC's first win over the Blue and White since the 2009 Nutrilite Canadian Championship (NCC) when The Reds defeated Vancouver 1-0 at BMO Field on May 9 of that year. Wednesday's result was also Whitecaps FC's second straight defeat in the league.
Though they looked comfortable in possession for large parts of this derby contest in Southern Ontario, Whitecaps FC struggled to test TFC goalkeeper Stefan Frei during this midweek clash. It meant that Vancouver's search for their first away win as an MLS club continues into the second half of this inaugural regular season campaign. Vancouver's focus will now turn to the all-important second leg of this year's NCC final versus TFC at BMO Field on Saturday afternoon, with the prize of the Voyageurs Cup title and a spot in the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League at stake for both clubs.
"Tonight, I thought our possession was much better, but not in the final third of the pitch," said Whitecaps FC head coach Tom Soehn. "I thought we lacked creativity and struggled to get the ball into the mix, where good things can happen. While you feel it's improving in some areas, where we're not improving is getting results. This was an opportunity lost and we can't afford to lose on these opportunities. Yet, we can't hang our heads, as we got to turn around and play Toronto in a big game on Saturday."
With the decisive NCC game looming this weekend, Soehn played a younger-looking side in this return MLS meeting versus Toronto FC, as he made eight changes to the team that started last weekend's league defeat at Sporting Kansas City. The visitors played in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with goalkeeper Jay Nolly also coming back into the starting XI for the first time in just over a month.
With 19,816 taking in this first-ever BMO Field MLS meeting between these two clubs, Wednesday's match had very little to talk about before the second-half penalty decision during a beautiful summer's evening in Canada's largest city.
The goalless first half was, in fact, relatively tame from both clubs. Whitecaps FC looked comfortable and useful at times in possession, as their passing allowed them to control the pace of play before the break. The visitors also switched play from one flank to another regularly, but their efforts to get in behind TFC with through balls did not have the desired effect on several occasions.
The home side, meanwhile, provided some threat on the counter-attack, and they had the best chance of the first half on 14 minutes. Following a 'Caps giveaway, Joao Plata's byline cutback reached Mikael Yourassowsky in front of the Whitecaps FC goal. Yet, with time to pick his spot, the Belgian midfielder struck his effort wide of the target.
The 'Caps had a couple of half chances before halftime. On 37 minutes, Frei dropped Russell Teibert's corner in front of Greg Janicki, but the ball bounced off the 'Caps centre back and out for a goal kick at the near post. Six minutes later, Teibert rolled a shot wide of the TFC goal from the edge of the box.
With events well poised for the start of the second half, Soehn looked to turn the match in Vancouver's favour by putting on Toronto FC's menace in striker Eric Hassli for the restart, as the big Frenchman replaced midfielder Jeb Brovsky. It prompted a promising spell from the visitors, who on 48 minutes, created a chance for Blake Wagner off captain Pete Vagenas' corner. The left fullback got on the end of Omar Salgado's header in front of TFC's goal, but his backheel was cleared away by the home side.
That chance proved decisive, as the game turned in TFC's favour on 54 minutes after match referee Mark Geiger awarded the home side a penalty. He adjudged that Janicki had tripped up Soolsma just inside the Whitecaps FC box, as both players challenged for the ball. Despite being forced to retake his spot kick after converting the first time around, the Dutchman put his second attempt past Nolly - who dove the right way to try and save it - for his first goal of the season and a 1-0 TFC lead.
It was a disappointing position for Whitecaps FC to be in, and unsurprisingly, the goal livened up the match. The Reds had further chances from Joao Plata, Javier Martina, and substitute Matt Stinson, but Nolly and a lack of accuracy in front of goal kept things within reach of the 'Caps.
The scoreline saw Soehn make further attacking changes to try and turn the course of the contest, as Camilo and Nizar Khalfan also came off the substitutes' bench for Whitecaps FC. Both players had their opportunities in the latter stages, as did Salgado with a dangerous-looking turn and shot on the hour mark. However, none of those chances gave Frei any real concerns in the TFC goal.
Though more than three minutes of time added on were played, Toronto FC were able to see the match out and earn an important MLS home win over their arch-rivals from Canada's west coast.
Both clubs will now put league matters aside and concentrate their thoughts on this weekend's Voyageurs Cup decider at BMO Field, with this two-match final series well poised at 1-1 on aggregate. Whitecaps FC need to win Saturday's second leg, as Toronto FC hold the advantage of an away goal from the first leg at Empire Field back on May 18.
54' - TOR - Nick Soolsma (penalty)
Shots: Toronto 9 - Vancouver 9
Shots on Goal: Toronto 2 - Vancouver 0
Saves: Toronto 0 - Vancouver 1
Fouls: Toronto 11 - Vancouver 11
Corners: Toronto 3 - Vancouver 7
Offsides: Toronto 1 - Vancouver 2
27' - VAN - Michael Boxall
89' - TOR - Joao Plata
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
18.Jay Nolly, 8.Wes Knight, 14.Greg Janicki, 2.Michael Boxall, 19.Blake Wagner, 33.Pete Vagenas, 12.Jeb Brovsky (29.Eric Hassli 45'), 28.Gershon Koffie, 22.Shea Salinas (16.Nizar Khalfan 77'), 17.Omar Salgado, 31.Russell Teibert (37.Camilo 58')
Subs not used: 1.Joe Cannon, 3.Bilal Duckett, 7.Terry Dunfield, 25.Jonathan Leathers
24.Stefan Frei, 8.Dan Gargan, 27.Richard Eckersley, 20.Ty Harden, 25.Danleigh Borman, 28.Gianluca Zavarise (15.Matt Stinson 73), 11.Nathan Sturgis, 19.Mikael Yourassowsky, 18.Nick Soolsma, 33.Javier Martina (5.Ashtone Morgan 87'), 7.Joao Plata (2.Demitrius Omphroy 89')
Subs not used: 30.Milos Kocic, 16.Oscar Cordon, 6.Julian de Guzman, 4.Doneil Henry
Budweiser Man of the Match: Michael Boxall