Playing their fourth away match of the season, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (1W-4L-4D) claimed their first-ever point on the road in Major League Soccer after a hard-fought 0-0 draw at Eastern Conference club Chicago Fire (1W-3L-4D) on Saturday evening.
In a match that had plenty of quality scoring chances at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois, neither side had the finish needed to beat Whitecaps FC goalkeeper Jay Nolly nor his Fire counterpart Jon Conway. Having lost their first three away matches in the league this season, the Blue and White will be more satisfied with this weekend result, as they weathered first-half pressure from hosts Chicago before creating some fine chances of their own after the break.
"Chicago dominated us a little bit in the first half, but I felt we came out strong and dominated after the break," said Whitecaps FC head coach Teitur Thordarson. "We knew that the Fire were dangerous on the right flank, and they caused us some problems in that area of the pitch before the break. We managed to correct these things at halftime and I felt we were able to take over proceedings in the second half. We managed to open them up, but we were unable to score the winner."
Thordarson made two changes to the side that started the midweek Nutrilite Canadian Championship semifinal clash at home to Montreal Impact. Blake Wagner returned to the starting XI, as he replaced youngster Russell Teibert on the left-hand side of midfield. In attack, Camilo also returned to Vancouver's line-up to partner Eric Hassli, as the Brazilian replaced youngster Omar Salgado.
It was a cool and breezy evening at Toyota Park on Saturday, and after sticking with an unchanged line-up for Saturday's game, Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos might have felt justified by his selection in the first half, as the home side carried much of the play before halftime.
Yet, it was the away side that made a good start to the game in Illinois, with Whitecaps FC forcing Fire centre back Josip Mikulic into a yellow card on four minutes, as he cut down Camilo with a late tackle from behind. Budweiser Man of the Match Davide Chiumiento had slipped a fine through ball to the South American, who looked to be hitting full stride towards the Chicago goal. Mikulic could consider himself fortunate not to be punished more severely for his tackle, as it looked like a professional foul by the defender.
Vancouver remained positive in getting forward, and on 13 minutes, Alain Rochat was unfortunate not to find the far corner of Chicago's goal with a left-footed shot after taking a pass from captain Terry Dunfield near the edge of the Fire box.
It was the best chance of the opening half for the 'Caps, as Chicago created the better scoring opportunities before the break. On 18 minutes, Rochat made an heroic goal-saving tackle on Uruguayan striker Diego Chaves in the Vancouver box after the Fire broke forward down the right flank.
Fire winger Dominic Oduro was a particular handful for the 'Caps backline in the first half. On 32 minutes, the Ghanaian had a glorious chance to give the home side the lead. He latched on to a forward ball and took advantage of a slip by Mouloud Akloul before side-stepping Greg Janicki in the Vancouver box. With the whole goal to aim for, Oduro sailed his strike high over the crossbar. Four minutes later, Nolly made a fine diving save from Fire captain Marco Pappa after Chaves slipped a neat pass to the midfielder on the edge of the Vancouver box.
Both Pappa and Chaves combined again for Chicago's best chance of the match on 44 minutes. The Fire captain played provider on this occasion, with Chaves breaking in alone on Nolly, who came out to close the angle. Chaves toe-poked his strike towards the far corner, but Chicago's South American import could only find the base of the Whitecaps FC post before the ball was cleared away. It resulted in a goalless scoreline for both clubs at halftime.
After absorbing some decent pressure from the Fire before the break, Whitecaps FC's second-half performance was far more encouraging for their supporters, as they got stronger towards the game's end. The introductions of winger Shea Salinas and the versatile Nizar Khalfan provided a positive impact for the visitors, especially in the latter stages of the contest.
The Fire, meanwhile, tried to pick where they left off at the end of the first half by pressing forward and pushing Vancouver back on their heels. What was missing from Chicago were shots to test Nolly in the 'Caps goal, as Chaves, Corben Bone, and Gaston Puerari were wayward with long-range efforts.
As the second half wore on, Chicago's attacking intent lost some steam and Whitecaps FC went about putting pressure on their hosts, as they went in search of a first MLS win on the road. Moments after coming into the match for Camilo, Khalfan had a great chance to turn fellow substitute Salinas' corner on goal at the far post, but the Tanzanian international was unable to get a shot away.
Then, with a quarter of an hour remaining, Hassli had Vancouver's best opportunity of the game. The big Frenchman had worked hard all game and had tested Conway with a low drive earlier in the half. This time, the forward was put in all alone on the Fire goalkeeper after Chiumiento did extremely well to slip the striker in with a through ball from the left flank. With only Conway to beat, Hassli got caught in two minds with what finish he wanted to take. This allowed the former Toronto FC shot-stopper to close Hassli down in the Chicago box and collect the ball at the striker's feet.
Undeterred, the 'Caps kept pressing forward in the dying stages. As the match entered three minutes of time added on, a Vancouver break created another chance for Khalfan. Hassli made an attacking run from the halfway line before playing in his East African strike partner on his right. With a clear sight at goal, Khalfan teed up a blistering strike that flew just over the Chicago crossbar, with the shot being the last chance of the match.
While the chances at both ends could have resulted in goals, both clubs had to settle for clean sheets and a share of the spoils. The draw extends Whitecaps FC's winless run in MLS to eight matches, while Chicago have not won in six league games following this weekend stalemate.
Whitecaps FC have another quick turnaround, as they return home to host Western Conference rivals San Jose Earthquakes in their next MLS contest on Wednesday evening. The Fire, meanwhile, will have a week to prepare for another Canadian opponent, as they visit Eastern Conference foes Toronto FC next Saturday.
Shots: Chicago 12 - Vancouver 4
Shots on Goal: Chicago 4 - Vancouver 2
Saves: Chicago 2 - Vancouver 4
Fouls: Chicago 14 - Vancouver 14
Offsides: Chicago 0 - Vancouver 2
Corners: Chicago 5 - Vancouver 3
4' - CHI - Josip Mikulic
25' - VAN - Terry Dunfield
61' - VAN - Davide Chiumiento
61' - CHI - Diego Chaves
76' - CHI - Dan Paladini
83' - CHI - Baggio Husidic
1.Jon Conway; 6.Jalil Anibaba, 89.Yamith Cuesta, 23.Josip Mikulic, 13.Gonzalo Segares; 18.Gaston Puerari (77.Bratislav Ristic 84'), 11.Dan Paladini, 19.Corben Bone (9.Baggio Husidic); 8.Dominic Oduro, 99.Diego Chaves, 16.Marco Pappa
Subs not used: 30.Alec Dufty, 17.Davis Paul, 24.Pari Pantazopoulos, 32.Dasan Robinson
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
18.Jay Nolly; 25.Jonathan Leathers, 14.Greg Janicki, 50.Mouloud Akloul, 4.Alain Rochat; 20.Davide Chiumiento, 7.Terry Dunfield, 28.Gershon Koffie, 19.Blake Wagner (22.Shea Salinas 58'); 37.Camilo (16.Nizar Khalfan 72'), 29.Eric Hassli
Subs not used: 1.Joe Cannon, 2.Michael Boxall, 12.Jeb Brovsky, 17.Omar Salgado, 31.Russell Teibert