Caps barely hang on to win series - The Province

Coach angry after Vancouver blows 3-1 lead to lose game 4-3 Marc Weber The Vancouver Whitecaps showed up for work late, thought they'd finished their business early and were almost forced to put in some overtime. Vancouver eked out a 5-4 aggregate series win in their United Soccer League First Division quarterfinal against the Minnesota Thunder, hanging on for a 4-3 loss in Sunday's second leg at the National Sports Centre Stadium. Thinking the game was a 6 p.m. local time start -- it was supposed to be 5 p.m. -- the Whitecaps caused a 20-minute delay for kickoff. It then took just three minutes for Alfredo Valente to score, putting Vancouver ahead 3-0 on aggregate -- after Friday's 2-0 win at Swangard -- and seemingly booking their place in the semifinals. They even led 3-1 in the game (5-1 on aggregate) after Eddie Sebrango scored in the 55th minute. Everything fell apart after that in a shocking defensive display that left coaches and players sour, none more so than defender Jeff Clarke. "We had reckless abandon on defence and it was just an amateur effort really in the second half," said Clarke. "We were on borrowed time there and we're lucky the ref blew [the whistle] when he did." Goalkeeper Jay Nolly called the second half "a gong show." He had a communication mixup with defender Wesley Charles in the 64th minute that resulted in the 3-2 goal by Minnesota. A harmless ball into the box was headed backward by Charles, but Nolly was running out to play it and the ball looped over his head and rested near the goal line for Melvin Tarley to tap in. Then, after Clarke leaped to make a goal-line hand-ball save that should have been a penalty kick, the Thunder struck again, this time Stephen deRoux scoring on a mad scramble that spoke volumes for Vancouver's panic level. In the 90th minute, Vicente Arze was called for hauling down deRoux in the box, and Freddy Moojen converted the penalty for the game-winner. And there were still two minutes of injury time left. Another goal would have meant two 15-minute overtimes, then penalty kicks. It was shades of 2000, when Vancouver blew a 3-0 first-leg lead on Minnesota to lose 4-3. "Just bull---t," said head coach Teitur Thordarson, whose side will now face the Montreal Impact in the two-leg semifinal round. "Absolutely unnecessary to lose this game. "We just stopped playing, thinking that it's over. It irritates me. We made some changes and everything just falls apart." Arze was a second-half substitute, preceded by fellow midfielders Takashi Hirano and Justin Moose, and forwards Jason Jordan and Nicholas Addlery. "I am happy that we are through," said Thordarson. "Not happy with the way we did it." Martin Nash also scored for Vancouver, while Luchi Gonzalez countered for Minnesota. © The Vancouver Province 2008