Grateful to fine backup Baldock for keeping drive alive
Tyler Baldock helped to save Jay Nolly from many a sleepless night.
Now it's Nolly's turn to help give the Vancouver Whitecaps and their fans one long unforgettable night.
Nolly, the Whitecaps' go-to goalkeeper, was suspended for the second leg of the USL First Division semifinal against Montreal last Sunday for allegedly throwing a punch in Friday's series opener.
Baldock, a 24-year-old making his first professional start, was thrust into the role of saviour. He did what was needed, controlling David Testo's hard 20-yard drive midway through the second half, and keeping his cool down the stretch.
Vancouver's 2-0 victory lifted them into Sunday's USL-1 championship game at Swangard that's closing in on a sellout.
"It was definitely tough in the stands, just sitting there," said Nolly. "I didn't want my season to be over. I didn't want our season to be over. It would have just been a sour way to go out and it was just great the way they played the first half; was the best half we played all year. Now we're going in the right direction for the final."
Nolly was dealt a straight red card in Montreal for his role in a melee. He was accused of attempting to punch Impact player Antonio Ribeiro, who went on to score the game's only goal with the Whitecaps down to 10 men.
It looked like Nolly was trying to swat Ribeiro's hand out of his face and Nolly says he was doing just that. But that knowledge of innocence wouldn't have taken away the guilt had the Caps lost the series.
"I already felt guilty for putting them in a 10-man spot and them having to battle so hard for the rest of that game, just to get the 1-0 loss," he said.
"I'm 10 times harder on myself than anybody is on me. If we would have lost that game by more and not been able to come back that second leg, yeah, I'd definitely be feeling pretty bad.
"People would say 'it's OK,' but inside they'd be hurt too."
Nolly, 26, was a backup for Major League Soccer sides Real Salt Lake and D.C. United for three years after starring at Indiana University. So part of him was happy for Baldock.
"You just wait for any opportunity," Nolly said. "His came along. I just said, 'Good luck man, this is what you're waiting for.' And he did great with it."
And Baldock is equally happy to step aside for one of the biggest games in franchise history -- the first championship game on home turf since the Canadian Soccer League's 86ers hosted the 1992 final.
The Whitecaps will need the assertive, 6-foot-3 Nolly at his best against a Puerto Rico side that's dangerous in attack and on set pieces.
"It was an opportunity to go out there and prove myself and I felt I did my job," said Baldock, who played for the USL Premier Development League's Abbotsford Mariners this season and only signed on with the Whitecaps when they ran into a goalie shortage.
"Joining on late in the season, my role was to back up Jay for whatever reason he might miss a match," Baldock said. "He deserves to be in the final, I think we all know that.
"But if we go on and hopefully win the championship, I definitely feel like I was part of it."
© The Vancouver Province 2008