The core is the key - The Province

Veterans carry team into semifinal Marc Weber The Freddy and Eddie show was long forgotten by Sunday's final whistle. It was overshadowed by a final 30 minutes of soccer that qualified as the most grotesque sight in Minnesota since the wood-chipper scene in Fargo. But the performance of Alfredo Valente and Eduardo Sebrango in the Vancouver Whitecaps 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Thunder is worth revisiting for two reasons. First, their play was largely responsible for Vancouver's 3-1 lead (5-1 on aggregate) that proved padding enough to clinch the two-game quarterfinal series 5-4. And combined with the contributions of fellow veterans Martin Nash, Jeff Clarke, Steve Kindel and Geordie Lyall -- in stark contrast to the debacle that ensued after substitutions were made -- it illuminated the fact that the so-called old men are still the engine of this rapidly changing team. "Where would we be in that game without Freddy?" Clarke pondered after. Indeed. Valente not only opened the scoring three minutes in to put the Thunder in a huge hole, he also cleared a sure goal off the line in the 29th minute, and in the 55th, slipped a pretty pass through his defender's legs to spring Sebrango for the 3-1 goal. Sebrango, meanwhile, showed up on the score sheet with his tally, but the best play of the night was a dummy that didn't display in the stat report. On the opening goal, Sebrango let Charles Gbeke's pass slip between his legs to set the table for a charging Valente. It was a deft, intelligent move. "Huge," Valente said of that play. "It's all the little things that Eddie's done -- all his hard work, not all the goals he's scored -- that shows how big a player he is for us. "Just that little play there, he heard me calling. A lot of other strikers will try to get some glory themselves, but Eddie's just that type of player. "There's a good core group that's been here for a while, and their leadership throughout the year has been big. We're excited for this time of the year. We can say we've been there, done that, we have a championship under our belt [in 2006] and we know what to expect." Head coach Teitur Thordarson was complimentary of his veterans -- Nash also scored and picked out Valente on Sebrango's goal -- but he stood by his decision to use all five subs midway through the second half. It's hard to argue, based on how many minutes guys like Nash and Sebrango have logged, and with the score at the time 5-1 on aggregate. Even Thordarson admitted he thought the win was sealed. "Guys played like [the game] was over, and I actually thought that too when we did these changes," he said. "The substitutions have worked quite well all season, [and] at home against Minnesota [a 2-0 win Friday where subs Gbeke and Jason Jordan combined to set up another sub in Justin Moose for the final goal] they were absolutely vital." True enough. But with the stakes higher and the opponent tougher in this weekend's semifinal against the Montreal Impact, a stretcher might be the only way the core group is leaving the field. © The Vancouver Province 2008