By Simon Fudge/whitecapsfc.com
Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency fell to a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat at Thunder Bay Chill in the USL Premier Development League semifinal on Saturday evening.
In the first-ever all-Canadian semifinal in PDL history, a crowd of 1,546 at Thunder Bay's Chapples Park saw a dramatic contest between two conference champions, with the game's decisive moments taking place in the four minutes of second-half stoppage time.
After a goalless first half, Scott Milroth gave Thunder Bay the lead just after the hour mark, but just as he did one week ago in the PDL Western Conference semifinal against San Fernando Valley Quakes, Randy Edwini-Bonsu equalized in the final stages to seemingly set up extra time. Yet, the extra half-hour would not be required, as the Chill's Alvaro Zendejas headed home a corner in the fourth minute of stoppage time to secure Thunder Bay's first-ever berth in the PDL championship final.
On a clear and warm summer's day in Northern Ontario, it was the home side that had the early opportunities in front of a passionate Chapples Park crowd.
Yet, just before the quarter-hour mark, Whitecaps Residency were given a major opportunity to take the lead. A foul by Brazilian defender Wilson Neto on the elusive Edwini-Bonsu in the Thunder Bay box gave Anthony DiNicolo the chance to put the visitors in front from the penalty spot. Unfortunately for the Vancouver centre back, his penalty was well saved by Chill goalkeeper Stephen Paterson, who dove to his left to block the spot kick.
Having a considerable physical advantage on their young opponents, Thunder Bay relied on set-pieces to put the Residency squad under pressure, but Whitecaps goalkeeper Simon Thomas was equal to the Chill's efforts in the first half, as he made saves from Gustavo Oliveira on 18 minutes and Zendejas on 26 minutes.
Thunder Bay's top goalscorer in Brandon Swartzendruber then struck the Vancouver crossbar with a header on the half-hour mark before Edwini-Bonsu forced Paterson into a save at the other end a minute later.
The Chill thought they had taken the lead on 41 minutes, but Milroth's strike was called back for an offside decision before both sides went to the break deadlocked at 0-0.
The early exchanges after the restart saw Zendejas and Swartzendruber have opportunities for Thunder Bay, while Navid Mashinchi struck a shot over Paterson's crossbar on 49 minutes.
Then after the Thunder Bay number one had saved a Residency free kick, the Chill took the lead through Milroth on 61 minutes. The American defender got on the end of substitute Jeremy Gold's free kick to head the ball into the top corner of the Whitecaps goal for 1-0.
The Whitecaps tried to respond eight minutes later, but Edwini-Bonsu could only hit the side-netting with his effort, while Oliveira and Swartzendruber had further chances for Thunder Bay on 73 and 77 minutes respectively.
With the game still well poised, the crowd were then treated to a dramatic finish from both sides. After Thomas had denied Gold a chance to increase the Chill's lead, Edwini-Bonsu got on the end of a Gagandeep Dosanjh through ball before placing a clinical finish past Paterson to make it 1-1 on 89 minutes.
For the second time in the space of a week, it looked like Vancouver might be heading to extra time in the PDL playoffs. However, Thunder Bay were the side with the heroics in the four minutes of stoppage time. After Gold was denied again by Thomas, a corner by the Chill striker was flicked on by Swartzendruber and knocked home at the far post by Zendejas for a 2-1 final score.
90 FULL MINUTES
The final whistle brought scenes of jubilation for Thunder Bay players, coaches, and supporters, as the Chill became the first Canadian club since the 2001 Calgary Storm to reach the PDL championship final. They will face defending league champions Laredo Heat in next Saturday's final at the Texas A&M International University Soccer Complex in Laredo, Texas. The Heat reached their third-straight PDL final after a 2-0 home win over Eastern Conference champions Reading Rage on Saturday.
Having just returned from Europe for Saturday's semifinal, Residency head coach Thomas Niendorf felt his young side were not allowed to establish the type of rhythm that they wanted in the game. "Thunder Bay put a lot of pressure on us with set-pieces and corners," he told whitecapsfc.com after the game. "We were a little bit disappointed with the way the game went from a refereeing point of view because we never got the control in our game that we are capable of because one set-piece after another was being awarded. To be fair to Thunder Bay, they were by far the physically more mature side. However, I always felt that it was anybody's game until the end. The players are understandably disappointed, as they all put a lot into the season."
The end of their PDL season nearly concludes the first inaugural year of the Whitecaps Residency program, with Niendorf feeling the USL league has provided an important component to their 12-month schedule. "The PDL has been a good and competitive element at the end of our season," he said. "We had ten months where we can really develop the performances of the players, as we did by taking trips to Europe and the Dallas Cup. We then had three months at the end of our season where we played in a truly competitive league and could develop a winning mentality, which is a big element of developing players. I have to give the players a lot of credit for competing as 17 and 18 year olds in a fairly mature league this summer."
Vancouver Whitecaps FC have announced that they will pursue one of two Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion franchises set to be added to the league by 2011. Fans are encouraged to visit whitecapsfc.com/mls to register their support for a Whitecaps MLS franchise and help show the rest of North America what Vancouver and British Columbia have to offer.
TB - 61' - Scott Milroth (Jeremy Gold)
VAN - 89' - Randy Edwini-Bonsu (Gagandeep Dosanjh)
TB - 90+4' - Alvaro Zendejas (Brandon Swartzendruber)
VAN: Stefan Leslie 38', Gagandeep Dosanjh 56', Philippe Davies 81', Randy Edwini-Bonsu 90 + 4'
TB: Jose Alvarado 52', Scott Milroth 79'
VAN: Randy Edwini-Bonsu 90+4'
Shots: Vancouver 8 – Thunder Bay 15
Saves: Vancouver 6 – Thunder Bay 6
Fouls: Vancouver 18 – Thunder Bay 13
Offsides: Vancouver 2 – Thunder Bay 2
Corners: Vancouver 4 – Thunder Bay 10
Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency
1.Simon Thomas; 3.Navid Mashinchi (18.Drew Russell 74'), 5.Anthony DiNicolo, 15.Antonio Rago, 27.Stefan Leslie; 6.Ethan Gage, 8.Philippe Davies, 34.Mason Webb (33.Nick Webb 59'); 9.Randy Edwini-Bonsu, 14.Gagandeep Dosanjh, 17.Alex Semenets (35.Sahil Sandhu 82')
Thunder Bay Chill
1.Stephen Paterson; 4.Scott Milroth, 6.Wilson Neto, 15.Jose Alvarado, 18.Nolan Intermoia; 8.Anthony Putrus (2.Jose Coronado 85'), 9.Alvaro Zendejas, 20.Casey Gold (16.Robert Swann 63'); 10.Gustavo Oliveira (7.Brandon Jones 75'), 13.Brandon Swartzendruber, 21.Marcos Roberto Silva (11.Jeremy Gold 40')