Completing a busy week of action, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (2W-10L-9D) earned a hard-fought 2-2 away draw with Western Conference rivals San Jose Earthquakes (5W-6L-9D) in Major League Soccer on Wednesday evening.
In what was a thrilling midweek contest at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara, California, two goals by Eric Hassli cancelled out Chris Wondolowski's two goals for the Earthquakes to earn Vancouver a share of the spoils on the campus of Santa Clara University. Through it ended in stalemate, both sides provided great entertainment with their willingness to attack throughout the match.
The result ended Whitecaps FC's four-match losing streak in MLS, and a five-match losing streak in all competitions, though their quest to secure a first-ever away win in the league continues. San Jose, meanwhile, see their winless streak in MLS extend to seven matches, though their unbeaten run at Buck Shaw Stadium now extends to seven games.
"I was very disappointed with the start of the match," said Whitecaps FC head coach Tom Soehn. "We were flat to start and it took a goal to wake us up. After that, we were pressing a little bit better. We created a few opportunities, but I think we made a few naïve mistakes tonight. We let their guys get through too easy. It meant that we really had to fight back and create opportunities. That was a real positive, as we created quite a few plays."
Soehn made two changes from the starting XI that faced English Premier League giants Manchester City FC on Monday. Making his homecoming since joining the Blue and White, Joe Cannon returned to Whitecaps FC goalkeeping duties and faced his former club. The other change came at centre back, as Greg Janicki replaced Alain Rochat, who was back in Vancouver for the birth of his third child earlier on Wednesday. The midweek game was also the MLS debut for the league's first African-born Designated Player, as Gambian international Mustapha Jarju partnered Hassli in the Vancouver attack.
On a gorgeous night for soccer in the Bay Area, Wednesday's match lived up to the great weather that a crowd of 8,122 enjoyed at Buck Shaw Stadium, with both sides creating enough quality chances to score more than the four goals they actually registered on the scoresheet.
It was the home side that made the brighter start to this midweek league contest. From the first corner of the game, Earthquakes striker Steven Lenhart's header was redirected by Brad Ring off the Whitecaps FC crossbar and away to safety for the first chance of the match.
It was a sign of things to come, and on three minutes, Wondolowski haunted Vancouver again with another goal against the Blue and White. Simon Dawkins played a fine chipped ball into the path of the San Jose marksman on the edge of the 'Caps box. Though the visitors appealed for offside, Wondolowski took a fine first touch before beating his former teammate in Cannon for a 1-0 San Jose lead.
It was a disappointing start to the match for the 'Caps, but as the half wore on, the visitors grew into the contest. Former Earthquakes winger Shea Salinas was looking particularly dangerous with his play on both flanks for Vancouver, but it was new signing Jarju that almost levelled matters on nine minutes with a powerful strike that flew just over the San Jose goal after Earthquakes defender Bobby Burling knocked his clearance of Jeb Brovsky's forward ball into the West African's path. At the other end, Jonathan Leathers made a timely challenge to deny Lenhart from striking on goal on 31 minutes.
As the match moved towards the break, Vancouver looked the better side and they were rewarded for their attacking endeavour on 42 minutes. 'Budweiser Man of the Match' Salinas knocked a ball into Hassli's path off the left flank. The big Frenchman took control in the San Jose box and drilled a half-volleyed strike past a diving Jon Busch in the Earthquakes goal to make it 1-1. It was Hassli's seventh goal of the season.
The equalizer inspired Whitecaps FC into finding a second before halftime, and Camilo had two chances in the two minutes of time added on. The Brazilian just missed the target with a well-hit free kick before he struck Leathers' deflected cross from the Earthquakes byline just wide of the near post. It meant both sides went to the break level at 1-1.
If the first half offered promise in terms of entertainment, the second half might have paid for the whole value of Wednesday's match ticket at Buck Shaw Stadium. There were goals, strikes against the woodwork, and glorious chances during the second 45 minutes.
Much like the start of the match, it was San Jose that regained the advantage with a second goal on 54 minutes. Again, it was Vancouver's new nemesis in Wondolowski that converted his second goal of the match - and third goal all-time against Whitecaps FC - with an unmarked close-range header from Jacob Peterson's curling free kick into the Vancouver box. The strike took Wondolowski's goal tally in MLS to eight this season and made it 2-1 to the home side.
Looking to find a way back into the match, a fit-again Davide Chiumiento replaced Jarju on 57 minutes and helped change the course of proceedings for the 'Caps. It was the Swiss playmaker's pass to Salinas on the left flank that allowed the speedy winger to make an attacking run to the San Jose byline, where he calmly played a simple to pass to Hassli. The Frenchman duly converted his second goal of the match - and eighth of the season - to make it 2-2 on 61 minutes.
With the match back at level terms, the latter stages became highly eventful at both ends. Wondolowski nearly restored San Jose's lead for a third time with a header off the Whitecaps FC crossbar following another dangerous Peterson free kick on 63 minutes, while at the other end, Camilo's downward header just missed going inside the far post after Salinas played over a sublime cross from the left two minutes later. Camilo then forced Busch into a fine save from his 74th-minute free kick that bounced in front of the San Jose shot-stopper and through the legs of a streaking Michael Boxall in the Earthquakes box.
While Camilo was to have no luck finding the scoresheet on Wednesday, the same could be said for San Jose striker Lenhart, who had two glorious chances in the final 10 minutes. He was gifted another breakaway by the 'Caps on 83 minutes, but with the whole net to aim for, the former Columbus Crew forward sliced his shot wide. A minute later, Lenhart forced Cannon into tipping his header off the Vancouver crossbar and over for a corner.
Camilo had two more chances to win the game for Whitecaps FC in the dying stages, with the South American almost breaking free after Janicki hit a clearance out of his own box. Burling and Busch did well to snuff out the potential threat of the break on 86 minutes. Yet, the game's last real chance might have been the most spectacular from 'Caps midfielder Gershon Koffie. On 89 minutes, the Ghanaian teed up a 30-yard piledriver that beat Busch, but struck the top end of the San Jose crossbar before bouncing out for a goal kick.
Though four additional minutes were played, the final whistle concluded one of the more pulsating games in MLS this season, with a share of the spoils likely a fair result for all concerned in Northern California. Whitecaps FC will now take a deserved 10-day break before preparing to host top MLS club LA Galaxy at Empire Field on Saturday, July 30. San Jose, meanwhile, have a short turnaround, as they visit Real Salt Lake in Sandy, Utah, this Saturday.
3' - SJ - Chris Wondolowski (Simon Dawkins, Steve Lenhart)
42' - VAN - Eric Hassli (Shea Salinas)
54' - SJ - Chris Wondolowski (Jacob Peterson)
61' - VAN - Eric Hassli (Shea Salinas, Davide Chiumiento)
Shots: San Jose 11 - Vancouver 13
Shots on Goal: San Jose 4 - Vancouver 5
Saves: San Jose 3 - Vancouver 2
Fouls: San Jose 14 - Vancouver 12
Offsides: San Jose 4 - Vancouver 4
Corners: San Jose 6 - Vancouver 4
40' - VAN - Jeb Brovsky
45' - SJ - Brad Ring
74' - SJ - Chris Leitch
90'+3 - SJ - Ramiro Corrales
San Jose Earthquakes
18.Jon Busch; 12.Ramiro Corrales, 21.Jason Hernandez, 2.Bobby Burling, 3.Chris Leitch; 19.Jacob Peterson (11.Bobby Convey 66'), 5.Brad Ring, 10.Simon Dawkins (30.Rafael Baca 42'), 7.Khari Stephenson (9.Scott Sealy 83'); 8.Chris Wondolowski, 24.Steven Lenhart
Subs not used: 13.Andrew Weber, 4.Sam Cronin, 20.Tim Ward, 27.Nana Attakora
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
1.Joe Cannon; 25.Jonathan Leathers, 14. Greg Janicki, 2.Michael Boxall, 12.Jeb Brovsky; 37.Camilo, 28.Gershon Koffie, 33.Peter Vagenas, 22.Shea Salinas; 29.Eric Hassli (16.Nizar Khalfan 82'), 7.Mustapha Jarju (20.Davide Chiumiento 57')
Subs not used: 18.Jay Nolly, 3.Bilal Duckett, 8.Wes Knight, 13.Michael Nanchoff, 17.Omar Salgado
Budweiser Man of the Match: Shea Salinas