Vancouver remains three points behind first-place Puerto Rico
Special to the Vancouver Sun
The 10-man Whitecaps held on for a tie against USL First Division leaders Puerto Rico Sunday after having top scorer Eduardo Sebrango sent off 10 minutes from time.
The Cuban marksman was giving his marching orders after protesting to the referee that Omar Jarun shouldn't have had a goal disallowed for a foul on Puerto Rico goalkeeper Bill Gaudette in the 79th minute.
Earlier the central defender and substitute Nick Addlery had almost won it for Vancouver, though the home side also had goalkeeper Jay Nolly to thank for keeping their sheet clean.
Jarun reflected afterwards: Luca headed it, it came to [Gaudette] and he put his hand on it, Jarun said. I wasn't sure of the rule, so toe-poked it in, just to make sure. [But] it was a foul. [The referee] said [Eddie] was then sent off for dissent and raising his hand.
Given the sides occupied the two top slots in USL-1 at kick-off, a tight, cagey opening, was seemingly on the menu.
However, the Whitecaps almost caught their visitors cold with a tasty starter, within 30 seconds of the whistle blowing.
After some neat interplay, Eduardo Sebrango rose powerfully to meet Alfredo Valentes curling cross with a goal-bound header, but Puerto Rico keeper Bill Gaudette dived sharply to his left to make the save.
Having been on the back foot from the off, the Islanders who soundly beat Seattle 3-0 two nights earlier went close to breaking the deadlock themselves in the 8th minute, Petter Villegas flashing a shot just wide.
The forward was at it again mid-way through the first half, cutting in from the left edge of the Whitecaps penalty box and testing keeper Jay Nollys gloves with a stinging strike.
Vancouver suffered a blow on the half hour when skipper Jeff Clarke, who'd been doubtful for the game with a thigh injury, hobbled off the pitch with a hamstring strain.
However, substitute Mason Trafford seamlessly slotted into the midfield position vacated by the Whitecaps talisman and the home side continued to look more than a match for the Islanders. A half-time pep talk appeared to fire up Puerto Rico and Josh Hansen drew a brilliant reaction save from Nolly with an acute-angled close-range shot minutes after the restart.
Vancouver weathered the storm, though, and the introduction of Addlery for Charles Gbeke gave them fresh impetus. Just shy of the hour mark, the forward guided a volley-on-the-run from Valentes cross comfortably wide. Sebrango then slipped him in and he drove a shot against the underside of the crossbar, before seeing the ball ricochet to safety. Jarun had a good chance to make the breakthrough in the 73rd minute, heading straight at Gaudette, before the game erupted in controversy. A Martin Nash corner was headed goalwards by substitute Luca Bellisimo, via a defender, and the Islanders keeper appeared to have drop it, Jarun pouncing and seemingly putting the Whitecaps ahead. However, referee Geoff Gamble ruled Gaudette had a hand on the ball, as Jarun pounced, so the goal was disallowed. Sebrango then gave Gamble a verbal lashing in protest before raising his hands to the official and was subsequently sent for an early bath, after a yellow-card double. The striker will now miss the Whitecaps trip to Seattle on Wednesday
© The Vancouver Sun 2008