VANCOUVER, BC – Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-23 (5W-4L-2D) battled to a 1-1 draw against Victoria Highlanders FC (7W-1L-2D) on Friday evening despite being reduced to 10 men. The point was enough for Vancouver to claim the Juan de Fuca Plate for the second season in a row.
Sasa Plavsic opened the scoring with a long-range effort for Vancouver before they were pegged back by an equally good strike from distance from Victoria's Brett Levis before halftime. Late on in the second half, Niall Cousens received his second yellow card late but late heroics from goalkeeper Marco Carducci preserved the point.
The first two matches between the provincial rivals this season ended with each team getting a win, a 3-2 victory for Victoria in Vancouver and a 5-3 win for Whitecaps FC on the Island. However, the 'Caps held the edge in goal difference courtesy of their two-goal win, meaning they needed only a draw to win the Juan de Fuca Plate.
Whitecaps FC looked dangerous from the opening whistle. In the first minute midfielder Michael Winter lined up a shot from well outside the area that flew just over the bar.
A minute later, Cam Hundal made a run into the box before cutting back for Peter Bow. The midfielder struck a first time effort that Highlanders FC keeper Elliot Mitrou did well to tip over the bar.
A good cross-field ball from Bobby Jhutty on 17 minutes found Bow in the box who in turn touched the ball to Plavsic to take a first-time shot that was deflected behind. The resulting corner fell to Plavsic but his close range shot was blocked by a Victoria defender.
Vancouver opened the scoring in the 23rd minute with a fine solo effort from Plavsic. The striker looked to be surrounded by Victoria defenders but made space for a shot into the corner that was too hot to handle for 'keeper Mitrou, who got a glove to it but could not keep the ball out.
Despite Whitecaps FC looking comfortable, Victoria got an equalizer in the 40th minute when Levis drove from deep, played a one-two with Jordie Hughes and fired into the bottom corner from just outside the box.
Just before halftime Cousens was shown his first caution after winning a header outside the Victoria area. The referee judged the header as a foul from the striker and produced the yellow card on 45 minutes as the teams went into the break level.
After a quiet opening to the second half, on 64 minutes a good move from Victoria found Jordie Hughes clear inside the box. The midfielder found himself one-on-one with Carducci but the young 'keeper made a great save to keep the score level.
Whitecaps FC were dealt a blow when Cousens tumbled towards the 'keeper following a challenge from a Victoria defender. The referee deemed the incident to be worthy of a second yellow card to the Vancouver striker and reduced the team to 10 men for the final 16 minutes.
With the man advantage, Victoria pressed for a late winner and looked set to claim it with three minutes remaining. The ball was played into the area to Jordie Hughes whose powerful first time strike was kept out by Carducci who recovered quickly enough to then deny Blair Sturrock with the close range rebound. Sturrock then lifted the ball clear of the bar as Whitecaps FC hung on.
Despite a late barrage from Victoria, Whitecaps FC held on to seal the Juan de Fuca Plate on goal difference.
Head of high performance Stuart Neely was pleased with the outcome and happy to lift the plate under the circumstances.
“I think what the boys showed tonight was a lot of discipline and a lot of character,” commented Neely. “We knew the Highlanders would come to play a good game and we’re certainly disappointed not getting maximum points. We’re very happy we’ve won the plate and it’s a good boost for the boys.”
Neely reserved special praise for young goalkeeper Carducci. “He’s a 16-year-old boy and he’s made two world class saves,” Neely said. “Those are the kind of saves that international quality 'keepers make and he’s won us the plate tonight.”
Next up for Whitecaps FC U-23s is a home match against Cascadia rivals Portland Timbers U-23s on July 12, 2013. Kickoff at Thunderbird Stadium is at 7p.m. PT and admission is free to the public.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-23:
22. Marco Carducci; 2. Colton O’Neill, 4. James Farenhorst, 5. Derrick Bassi, 16. Michael Winter; 3. Ethen Sampson (26. Kevin Cobby 77’), 10. Bobby Jhutty, 23. Cam Hundal, 24. Peter Bow; 12. Sasa Plavsic, 17. Niall Cousens
Substitutes not used:
13. Sean Melvin, 9. Gagandeep Dosanjh, 7. Harry Lakhan
Victoria Highlanders FC:
29. Elliot Mitrou; 2. Kalem Scott, 5. Ryan Ashlee, 13. Tyler Hughes, 15. Andrew Ravenhill; 16. Brett Levis, 24. Gareth Langdon, 10. Riley O’Neil, 4. Gavin Barrett (26. Sam Prette 81’); 17. Jordie Hughes, 21. Blair Sturrock
Substitutes not used:
J1. Joel Wilson, 23. Adam Ravenhill, 18. Cameron Stokes, 11. Craig Gorman, 7. Sahil Sandhu, 19. Jermele Campbell