Playing in their first-ever match in Major League Soccer, Vancouver Whitecaps FC defeated Canadian arch-rivals Toronto FC 4-2 in the first-ever meeting between two Canadian MLS clubs on Bell Pitch at Empire Field on Saturday afternoon.
Designated Player Eric Hassli endeared himself to his new fans with two goals for the Blue and White, while Vancouver native Terry Dunfield and Expansion Draft pick Atiba Harris also found the scoresheet on another historic day for the 'Caps. Captain Dwayne De Rosario and Brazilian striker Maicon Santos replied for Toronto FC, but it was not enough to ruin Vancouver's special moment on the Pacific National Exhibition grounds in East Vancouver.
"We couldn't have asked for a better start to our life in MLS," a delighted Whitecaps FC head coach Teitur Thordarson said after Saturday's season opener. "We scored four goals and created a lot of chances. We could have possibly scored some more goals, but to win 4-2 in our very first MLS game is a dream come true. I'm extremely happy with the players and with the team. I think we kept a good shape all the time, were disciplined, and worked extremely hard."
WATCH: FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS
Both Thordarson and TFC head coach Aron Winter were making their MLS coaching debuts on Saturday. Vancouver started New Zealand international Michael Boxall alongside captain Jay DeMerit in the centre of their backline, while Davide Chiumiento and Russell Teibert started in the wide midfield positions. Harris and Hassli partnered each other in the 'Caps attack. TFC's 4-3-3 formation, meanwhile, was missing injured Canadian international Julian de Guzman.
With spring sunshine and a sold-out crowd of 22,592 generating plenty of excitement on this opening day, the first half did not disappoint the fans in attendance at Empire - nor soccer fans listening on the radio or watching on television across Canada. They saw was a pulsating first 45 minutes, with the home side making a valuable first impression.
As it was Vancouver's MLS baptism, it may have been little surprise to the home fans that the 'Caps looked a bit nervy in the opening exchanges, with goalkeeper Jay Nolly needing to make early saves from De Rosario, Dutchman Nick Soolsma, and Jacob Peterson.
Whitecaps FC's response lifted the crowd, with the talented Chiumiento forcing a corner with a deflected shot in front of Toronto FC's goal on eight minutes, while former FC Zürich players Alain Rochat and Hassli teamed up to create a chance for Vancouver, with Hassli's shot blocked away for another 'Caps corner. It was a sign of big things to come.
On 15 minutes, the moment that all Whitecaps FC fans had been waiting for arrived, as Hassli scored the club's first-ever goal in MLS. Dunfield played a ball down the right flank to Chiumiento. The Swiss international's first-time cross deflected into the path of Hassli by strike partner Harris. Unmarked, the Frenchman's half-volley hit the inside of the far post and flew past TFC goalkeeper Stefan Frei to make it 1-0 and send the home fans into raptures.
While celebrations could be seen throughout Empire, TFC quickly silenced the crowd with an equalizer from their talisman De Rosario five minutes later. Santos played a fine through ball to the Reds captain, who got behind Boxall. His right-footed finish flew past Nolly to make it 1-1. The goal was also historical for MLS, as it was the league's 8,000th goal of all time.
Yet, TFC's leveller was only a brief bit of disappointment for 'Caps fans. After Boxall almost made amends with a close-range header from a Teibert free kick, local hero Dunfield restored Vancouver's lead with a tight-angle finish on 26 minutes. Chiumiento came off his right flank and slipped a fine through ball to his fellow midfielder in the TFC box. Dunfield made no mistake to beat a helpless Frei for 2-1.
Chiumiento and Harris had more chances before the break, while Peterson forced a routine save from Nolly with an unchallenged header in the five minutes of time added on.
Thordarson replaced the entertaining Chiumiento with Nizar Khalfan after the Swiss playmaker had picked up a knock before halftime. To his credit, the Tanzanian international made a fine substitute appearance in what proved to be a more commanding Whitecaps FC performance in the second half, as Vancouver worked hard to extend their lead after the restart.
On 63 minutes, Harris made the breakthrough with Vancouver's third goal and his first competitive strike for the Blue and White. Teibert's corner from the right struck TFC defender Dan Gargan in the legs before landing nicely for Harris. With the visitors struggling to defend the set-piece, the former FC Dallas forward struck home for a 3-1 'Caps advantage.
That lead nearly increased three minutes later after Teibert sent Harris in on a breakaway, but Frei did well to block the St Kitts and Nevis international's goal-bound strike. The youngster Teibert had a sensational MLS debut, but a knock meant his day ended on 69 minutes, with Wes Knight replacing the talented Canadian teenager.
Knight did not take long to make an impact. On 72 minutes, more flowing play from the 'Caps saw Harris send Knight through after the substitute beat TFC's offside trap. In alone on Frei, the former College of Charleston standout unselfishly passed to a streaking Hassli, who finished with aplomb for his second goal of the match and a 4-1 Vancouver lead.
As Whitecaps FC fans seemed already assured that victory was theirs, Santos completed the scoring with a blistering finish for TFC two minutes later. The Brazilian's right-footed strike from the edge of Vancouver's box flew past a diving Nolly for take it 4-2.
Though matters were still a bit in the balance, De Rosario could not start a TFC comeback with an off-target free kick on 77 minutes. As the match entered four minutes of time added on, Whitecaps FC fans rose to their feet to salute their heroes on the pitch, with Thordarson's side proudly responding in kind at the final whistle.
With their first match under their belts, Whitecaps FC will now look ahead to their first-ever away match in MLS, as they visit Eastern Conference side Philadelphia Union next Saturday. Toronto FC now head home for their next league match, as they host Vancouver's MLS expansion cousins Portland Timbers at BMO Field next Saturday.
15' - VAN - Eric Hassli (Atiba Harris)
20' - TOR - Dwayne De Rosario (Maicon Santos)
26' - VAN - Terry Dunfield (Davide Chiumiento)
64' - VAN - Atiba Harris
72' - VAN - Eric Hassli (Wes Knight)
74' - TOR - Maicon Santos (Mikael Yourassowsky)
Shots: Vancouver 18 - Toronto 11
Shots on Goal: Vancouver 10 - Toronto 8
Saves: Vancouver 6 - Toronto 6
Fouls: Vancouver 12 - Toronto 5
Corners: Vancouver 12 - Toronto 1
Offsides: Vancouver 2 - Toronto 1
27' - VAN - Terry Dunfield
31' - TOR - Nathan Sturgis
39' - VAN - Atiba Harris
44' - TOR - Dan Gargan
50' - VAN - Eric Hassli
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
18.Jay Nolly; 25.Jonathan Leathers, 6.Jay DeMerit, 2.Michael Boxall, 4.Alain Rochat; 20.Davide Chiumiento (16.Nizar Khalfan 45'), 28.Gershon Koffie, 7.Terry Dunfield, 31.Russell Teibert (8.Wes Knight 69'); 9.Atiba Harris, 29.Eric Hassli (37.Camilo 83')
Subs not used: 1.Joe Cannon, 12.Jeb Brovsky, 14.Greg Janicki, 23.Long Tan
24.Stefan Frei; 8.Dan Gargan, 20.Ty Harden, 3.Nana Attakora, 12.Adrian Cann; 11.Nathan Sturgis (28.Gianluca Zavarise 69'), 14.Dwayne De Rosario, 23.Jacob Peterson (19.Mikael Yourassowsky 71'); 33.Javier Martina, 29.Maicon Santos, 18.Nick Soolsma (13.Keith Makubuya 45')
Subs not used: 5.Ashtone Morgan, 16.Oscar Gordon, 26.Matt Gold, 30.Milos Kocic