TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS – Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s first-ever CONCACAF Champions League campaign ended with a 1-0 loss to C.D. Olimpia on Thursday night in Honduras.
The game didn’t mean anything in the CCL standings – Seattle had already clinched the top spot in Group F. Both teams were playing for pride more than anything else.
And the severely shorthanded ‘Caps showed plenty. In the end, though, a spectacular 69th-minute free kick from Nestor Martinez proved the difference.
This was always going to be a tough game for Vancouver.
Aside from the long travel and unfamiliar territory of Honduras’ capital city, the ‘Caps are currently dealing with a “serious glut of injuries,” as Carl Robinson said this week.
That’s why he only brought 14 players to Honduras – most of the starters were left behind to rest and recuperate ahead of Sunday’s crucial regular season finale vs. Houston Dynamo. By the end of Thursday’s match, only one player was left on the bench. And that was 19-year-old goalkeeper Marco Carducci.
Considering the circumstances, Vancouver held their own at Estadio Tiburcio Carias Andino.
Olimpia controlled the majority of possession and had the better chances in the first half – Whitecaps FC goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi made at least three saves and came off his line to cancel out a few more opportunities – but Vancouver also had their moments.
Unsurprisingly, Deybi Flores looked to have an extra spring in his step. The 19-year-old Honduran played two seasons in Tegucigalpa as a member of C.D. Motagua, one of Olimpia’s fiercest rivals. And he looked right in his element. Robinson said he was Vancouver's "best player on the park."
Striker Darren Mattocks, who banged heads with an Olimpia defender early in the half, also looked a threat. In the 23rd minute, the Jamaican showed some fancy footwork down the left before setting up Robert Earnshaw for a first-time opportunity inside the area.
Late in the half, he nearly took care of business himself, dribbling into the box before getting dispossessed at the last second.
But Mattocks was pulled out at halftime in favour of midfielder Gershon Koffie, likely as a result of the striker’s early injury scare. Flores also left the match with an injury just after the hour-mark – at which point centre back Tim Parker replaced him in midfield.
When it rains, it pours.
After a couple early second-half chances, including a long-distance strike off the crossbar, Olimpia took the lead in the 69th minute through a curling, left-footed free kick from Martinez. It was a perfect strike that left Tornaghi with no chance – "a bit of magic," as Robinson put it. And it all but ended the game.
Whitecaps FC conclude their first-ever CONCACAF Champions League campaign with a 1W-2L-1D record. They will have another crack at the competition next year, as a result of winning the 2015 Amway Canadian Championship.
But now the focus shifts squarely to league play.
The ‘Caps have already clinched a playoff spot heading into Sunday’s regular season finale at BC Place, but they could still end up anywhere from second to sixth in the log-jammed Western Conference. A home playoff game is very much in play – as is a top two finish and bye to the conference semifinals.
Kickoff for Sunday’s match is set for 4 p.m. PT and limited tickets are still available.
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Referee: Trevor Taylor
69’ – OLI – Nestor Martinez
Shots: Olimpia 14 – Vancouver 3
Shots on Goal: Olimpia 5 – Vancouver 1
Saves: Olimpia 1 – Vancouver 4
Offsides: Olimpia 4 – Vancouver 2
Corners: Olimpia 4 – Vancouver 6
Fouls: Olimpia 6 – Vancouver 17
27’ – OLI – Bayron Mendez
42’ – VAN – Marco Bustos
74’ – VAN – Jordan Smith
85’ – OLI – Javier Estupinan
40.Edrick Menjivar; 3.Elmer Guity, 14.Israel Fonseca, 22.Edgar Flores, 30.Johnny Palacios ©; 6.David Meza (47.Brayan Velasquez 76’), 10.Bayron Mendez, 33.Michaell Chirinos (18.Javier Estupinan 55’), 24.Mayron Flores; 21.Roger Rojas (17.Alberth Ellis 55’), 34.Nestor Martinez
Substitutes not used
1.Gerson Argueta, 2.Kevin Alvarez, 5.Ever Alvarado, 15.Lesvin Medina
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
70.Paolo Tornaghi; 6.Jordan Smith, 22.Christian Dean, 18.Diego Rodriguez, 3.Sam Adekugbe; 32.Marco Bustos, 20.Deybi Flores (26.Tim Parker 62’), 31.Russell Teibert ©, 38.Kianz Froese; 88.Robert Earnshaw, 11.Darren Mattocks (28.Gershon Koffie 46’)
Substitutes not used