Vancouver Whitecaps FC women battled back from three goals down in their final regular season match to earn a 3-3 draw against the visiting Colorado Force in Langley, BC, on Friday night.
However, the result fell short of what was needed to clinch a spot in the postseason, or to maintain any chance of hosting a playoff match. Colorado's goals were all scored by midfielder Erin Gunther, while Sydney Leroux tallied twice for the home side in front of 1,475 at McLeod Athletic Park.
The 'Caps will now spend a nervous weekend awaiting the result of Sunday's final United Soccer Leagues W-League match between Santa Clarita Blue Heat and the visiting Pali Blues. If Pali win, then they will overtake Whitecaps FC in the Western Conference standings and end Vancouver's season. If Santa Clarita win or draw, then Vancouver will hang on to second place and will travel to Santa Clarita to play the Blue Heat in the Western Conference playoff final next Sunday, July 24, at 4 p.m. PT.
Whitecaps FC head coach Hubert Busby Jr. made one change to his starting XI, bring in newly-signed veteran Martina Franko at centre back, as the former Canadian international rejoins the 'Caps for her sixth season with the club.
The Force jumped to a shock 2-0 lead with two early goals within in a minute. On eight minutes, Gunther fired home off a corner kick from Rebekah Patrick. Then seconds later, Gunther won control of the ball in the Vancouver box on the right and curled a superb shot past Whitecaps FC goalkeeper Jaclyn Dunnett.
The 'Caps tried to hit back, as Tiffany Weimer had a couple of good chances, but on 21 minutes, Colorado struck again. Goalkeeper Dunnett made a bad pass deep in her own box on the right, putting it right to Force striker Lexi Tagen. She played it back for Gunther, who blasted into the empty net for her hat-trick.
Vancouver held a pronounced edge in possession over the opening half and out-shot Colorado 12 to five, but could not find a way past Colorado goalkeeper Kirstin Salminen.
"The first 45, we obviously came out very flat and made mental errors," explained Busby after the match, "and for the first time, I think we played with a little bit of fear, which is something we haven't done all season."
The second half was a different story, as Vancouver picked up the pace and mounted their comeback.
On 50 minutes, Weimer hit a chest-high corner kick from the left, which Carrie Patterson neatly redirected into the goal with a glancing header.
Six minutes later, a long ball out the back from Lexi Marton was flicked on by Patterson to Leroux, and she used her explosive pace to break in alone and slot it past Salminen.
Whitecaps FC found the equalizer just past the hour mark, as Weimer to the right of goal cut it back for Leroux, and she buried it for her team-leading 11th goal of the season.
Busby told whitecapsfc.com after the match that the support of the great crowd was a factor, saying, "they were very supportive; even when we were down, they tried to rally us a bit and I'm sure that played a big part in our comeback."
Vancouver had two great chances to get the winner moments after equalizing, but could not hit the target. First, Leroux shot high from in close on a difficult cross, then on the next attack, a ball in from a free kick found Patterson alone in front, but she redirected her shot wide.
The 'Caps then began to lose their momentum, and while they continued to create chances, the winning goal eluded them.
Vancouver's regular season record finishes at 8W-2L-4D, moving Vancouver level on points atop the Western Conference standings with Santa Clarita, but the Blue Heat hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, giving them the edge. Third-place Pali are two points back and in position to jump into top spot with a win Sunday, which would eliminate Whitecaps FC from postseason contention. Sunday's decisive match between Pali and the Blue Heat kicks off at 7 p.m. PT at Harry Welch Stadium in Santa Clarita, California.
8' - FOR - Erin Gunther (Rebekah Patrick)
9' - FOR - Erin Gunther
21' - FOR - Erin Gunther (Lexi Tagen)
50' - VAN - Carrie Patterson (Tiffany Weimer)
56' - VAN - Sydney Leroux (Carrie Patterson)
62' - VAN - Sydney Leroux (Tiffany Weimer)
Shots: Vancouver 22 - Force 6
Saves: Vancouver 1 - Force 5
Fouls: Vancouver 7 - Force 11
Corners: Vancouver 5 - Force 2
Offsides: Vancouver 1 - Force 1
78' - FOR - Madison McQuilliams
81' - VAN - Kelsey Hood
90'+ - VAN - Krista Kruse
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
35.Jaclyn Dunnett; 15.Krista Kruse, 19.Martina Franko, 4.Lexi Marton, 3.Shannon Woeller (6.Amy Vermeulen 45'); 7.Tina Romagnuolo, 22.Kelsey Hood, 8.Tiffany Weimer (11.Alysha Bonnick 90'); 20.Jen Stoltenberg, 17.Carrie Patterson (14.Keshia Wallin 86'), 9.Sydney Leroux
Subs not used: 29.Kristen Funk, 10.Tseng Shu-O, 25.Ciara McCormack, 34.Abigail Phillips
1.Kirstin Salminen; 13.Samantha Pena, 2.Jenifer Thomas (4.Kaylyn Cooper 63'), 15.Madison McQuilliams, 23.Stephanie Sandino (21.Gabby Klipp 76'); 9.Brittany Garrett, 8.Erin Gunther (3.Kari Hamilton 90'+), 18.Rebekah Patrick; 19.Lexi Tagen (17.Autumn Ball 85'), 20.Daniela Molina, 5.Hannah Levett (16.Brianna McKenzie 80')
Subs not used: none