In what was a thrilling six-goal contest on Bell Pitch at Empire Field, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (1W-1L-1D) heroically came from three goals down to earn an improbable 3-3 home draw with Sporting Kansas City (1W-1L-1D) in Major League Soccer action on Saturday afternoon.
Hopes that the Blue and White would take anything from this second home match of the season looked remote after two goals from Teal Bunbury and a second-half strike from Kei Kamara gave Sporting KC a seemingly commanding three-goal lead.
However, Whitecaps FC found a way to earn a point in the final 17 minutes of the match, as a goal by Atiba Harris set up a grandstand finish for the 20,518 that were in attendance in East Vancouver. In time added on, Brazilian striker Camilo became the toast of 'Caps fans, as the Budweiser Man of the Match dramatically scored twice to secure an unlikely stalemate in front of a stunned and delighted home crowd.
"When we went 3-0 down, it would have been easy to give up, but we kept on going and continued to work and stayed positive as we always do. I think that paid off in the end," said Whitecaps FC head coach Teitur Thordarson. "I thought we played very well today, as we created a lot of chances. I was very happy with the effort of our team, especially at the end of the game."
Thordarson made four changes to the line-up that started last Saturday's defeat at Philadelphia Union. Jay Nolly returned in goal for the Blue and White, while Michael Boxall returned at centre back alongside Greg Janicki. With Eric Hassli suspended and Russell Teibert away on Canada U-20 national team duty, there were first-ever MLS starts for Wes Knight in midfield and Camilo in attack.
On a bright spring day on the Pacific National Exhibition grounds, it was the visitors that had the first opportunities of the match. Kamara put a header over the bar on six minutes, while Sporting KC captain Davy Arnaud forced a good save from Nolly with a shot five minutes later.
The home side worked their way back into the contest, with Knight nearly getting on the end of a Harris cross on the quarter-hour mark before Kamara went close again for Sporting KC when he hit the side-netting after taking a fine Milos Stojcev through ball on 26 minutes.
A large portion of the first half then turned into the Jimmy Nielsen show in the Sporting KC goal, as the Dane made four fine saves to keep the match scoreless. He denied Camilo on 28 minutes before making an equally fine stop from Blake Wagner a minute later. On 33 minutes, Harris took a pass from former Kansas City man Jonathan Leathers before executing a fine turn and shot that Nielsen did brilliantly to block away. Three minutes later, the Scandinavian shot-stopper was on hand to stop Camilo's low strike.
Though the chances were exciting for the fans to take in at Empire, the match remained goalless, and Sporting KC soon caused a threat through their lead attacker Bunbury. The Canadian-born, United States international was taking many jeers from home fans for his decision not to choose Canada as the country to play for at the international level, but those noises seemed to spur the striker on. On 45 minutes, he curled a strike just wide of the far post after turning Janicki on the edge of the Whitecaps FC box.
It proved to be a sign of things to come. In the two minutes of time added on, Bunbury took a pass from Sporting KC defender Roger Espinoza before drilling a fine shot past Nolly to give Kansas City a 1-0 halftime lead.
It was a setback for Vancouver to be trailing at the break, and matters took a turn for the worse once play resumed for the second half. On 58 minutes, the crafty Stojcev slipped a ball through to Bunbury in the Whitecaps FC box. The striker side-stepped Janicki before powering another strike past a diving Nolly for his third of the season and a 2-0 Kansas City advantage.
Five minutes later, Sporting KC extended their lead to three goals with another incisive move. Once again, it was Serbian midfielder Stojcev that played another dangerous forward ball, as he found C.J. Sapong on the left flank. His byline pass picked out Kamara at the far post, who finished confidently to make it 3-0 to the American Midwest outfit.
The comeback started on 73 minutes, with Camilo setting Khalfan down the left flank with a give-and-go for a dangerous run to the byline. The Tanzanian's low cross was met by the legs of Harris, as the striker converted his second goal of the season to cut the deficit to 3-1.
Harris' goal was a shot in the arm to the 'Caps, but especially the home fans, who did their best to get behind Vancouver in the final stages. Camilo and Harris kept the pressure on, with the former FC Dallas striker forcing a brilliant reflex save from Nielsen on 80 minutes.
As the fourth official showed a minimum of five minutes added time, Whitecaps FC went and made memories for their fans. In the 92nd minute, captain Terry Dunfield's forward ball freed Chiumiento on the right. The Swiss international played a simple pass to Camilo, who finished well past Nielsen from close range to make it 3-2.
What seemed the impossible now looked possible for the Blue and White, as another goal would earn them something from nothing. A minute after scoring his first-ever Whitecaps FC goal, Camilo etched his name in club folklore with a sublime header from Khalfan's pin-point cross, as the South American sent Empire into raptures by earning an improbable 3-3 result.
Whitecaps FC will have little time to absorb Saturday's dramatic events, as they quickly turn around and host MLS Eastern Conference side New England Revolution at Empire Field on Wednesday night. Sporting KC, meanwhile, will travel to Texas to play MLS rivals Houston Dynamo in a Lamar Hunt US Open Cup qualifier on Wednesday evening.
46'+ - KC - Teal Bunbury (Roger Espinoza)
58' - KC - Teal Bunbury (Milos Stojcev)
62' - KC - Kei Kamara (C.J. Sapong, Milos Stojcev)
73' - VAN - Atiba Harris (Nizar Khalfan, Camilo)
92'+ - VAN - Camilo (Davide Chiumiento, Terry Dunfield)
93'+ - VAN - Camilo (Nizar Khalfan, Atiba Harris)
Shots: Vancouver 13 - Kansas City 13
Shots on Goal: Vancouver 10 - Kansas City 7
Saves: Vancouver 4 - Kansas City 6
Fouls: Vancouver 7 - Kansas City 15
Offsides: Vancouver 3 - Kansas City 3
Corners: Vancouver 5 - Kansas City 6
64' - KC - Michael Harrington
68' - KC - Birahim Diop
88' - KC - Teal Bunbury
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
18.Jay Nolly; 25.Jonathan Leathers, 14.Greg Janicki (16.Nizar Khalfan 63'), 2.Michael Boxall, 4.Alain Rochat; 8.Wes Knight (20.Davide Chiumiento 69'), 28.Gershon Koffie, 7.Terry Dunfield, 19.Blake Wagner; 9.Atiba Harris, 37.Camilo
Subs not used: 1.Joe Cannon, 3.Bilal Duckett, 15.Philippe Davies, 23.Long Tan, 32.Kevin Harmse
Sporting Kansas City
1. Jimmy Nielsen; 2.Michael Harrington, 5.Matt Besler, 55.Julio Cesar (6.Shavar Thomas 82'), 15.Roger Espinoza; 88.Milos Stojcev (4.Craig Rocastle 90'), 20.Brahim Diop, 22.Davy Arnaud (27.Stephane Auvray 76'); 23.Kei Kamara, 9.Teal Bunbury, 17.C.J. Sapong
Subs not used: 18.Eric Kronberg, 3.Koreid Aiyegbusi, 24.Scott Lorenz, 32.Luke Sassano