Eric Hassli New York Red Bulls
Bob Frid

Whitecaps FC held to home draw by New York Red Bulls on Saturday

Playing their final match in the month of May, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (1W-5L-6D) were held to a 1-1 home draw by Eastern Conference club New York Red Bulls (4W-2L-6D) in Major League Soccer on Saturday afternoon.

In what was Vancouver's first league match in two weeks, a first-half penalty from Eric Hassli put Whitecaps FC in the lead on a beautiful sunny day on Bell Pitch at Empire Field. However, the 'Caps quest for a second league win was denied when English striker Luke Rodgers struck a first-half equalizer to earn the Red Bulls an away point in this first-ever meeting between the 'Caps and New York. The weekend stalemate extends Whitecaps FC's winless run in MLS to 11 matches, while New York see their winless streak in the league extend to five games.

"I'm quite disappointed again because I feel that we should have managed to take three points here today," said Whitecaps FC head coach Teitur Thordarson. "I think we played a good first half, though we were not as good in the second half. I felt that we had okay control of the game all the way through. The hard working part is there for 90 minutes, but we just don’t manage to convert our chances."

Thordarson made one change to the side that started Vancouver's last two matches in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship final series, including the abandoned second leg in Toronto on Wednesday. Wes Knight came in for Jonathan Leathers at right fullback. Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe, meanwhile, was forced to make two changes to the starting XI that played in the 2-2 home draw with Colorado Rapids. Injured striker Thierry Henry and the unavailable Mehdi Ballouchy were replaced by youngster Juan Agudelo and centre back Stephen Keel.

Warm weather greeted a sold-out crowd of 21,000 in East Vancouver, BC, with Whitecaps FC showing they were more than capable of competing against one of the best clubs in MLS. There were several quality chances at both ends in Saturday's match, with fans enjoying an open and attack-minded MLS contest.

The Blue and White threatened first on two minutes, as winger Shea Salinas went past Red Bulls defender Roy Miller on the right flank before finding Hassli at the far post. The big Frenchman's first-time shot flew over the New York crossbar. The 'Caps then had the ball in the back of the Red Bulls net on 16 minutes, but Camilo's strike was disallowed after Alain Rochat's run and cross from the left flank was adjudged to be offside.

With several attacking players on the pitch, New York showed they remain very dangerous going forward, even without the services of Henry. The Red Bulls best opportunities before the break fell to Rodgers, who had a dangerous run and shot across the face of Vancouver's goal on six minutes, and defender Jan Gunnar Solli three minutes later. The Norwegian international was unlucky not to hit the top corner of the 'Caps goal with a fine strike from a Rodgers pass.

Having been able to play the same relative line-up for a third-straight match, Thordarson's side were showing they were connecting better with their passing and movement, as they applied good pressure on New York. It was from a slick attacking sequence that the home side earned a penalty just past the midway point of the first half. Match referee Mark Geiger adjudged Red Bulls captain Carlos Mendes to have fouled Camilo in the New York box after the Brazilian combined on a classy give-and-go with midfielder Davide Chiumiento before heading towards goal.

The responsibility of the spot kick fell to Hassli on 24 minutes, and despite Red Bulls goalkeeper Greg Sutton guessing correctly as to the Frenchman's placement of his shot, the big striker slotted home his second MLS penalty of the year and fifth goal of the year for a 1-0 Whitecaps FC lead.

Vancouver's goal came from a good spell of play by the home side, and there was a feeling that another goal might soon arrive. Instead, the Red Bulls made a positive response by restoring parity on 34 minutes. Miller's cross from the left reached Solli on the right and near the edge of the 'Caps box. His half-hit shot fell nicely for Rodgers, whose first-time finish flew past Jay Nolly in the Vancouver goal to make it 1-1.

Rodgers' equalizer slightly dampened spirits on the Pacific National Exhibition grounds, and it was New York that finished the half strongly following scoring attempts by Canadian international Dwayne De Rosario and Estonian import Joel Lindpere.

With all to play for in the second half, fans at Empire Field saw more good action after halftime, with the home side creating a set of fine chances near the hour mark.

On 57 minutes, Sutton did well to block away Camilo's shot for a corner before Terry Dunfield tried to test the Red Bulls goal a minute later after Hassli got his head to a Nolly clearance. In his last game before joining the Canadian national team for this year's CONCACAF Gold Cup, Dunfield was unable to hit the target with an ambitious volley. Then on 59 minutes, a trademark leg save from Sutton denied Hassli a second goal of the match after Chiumiento found the Whitecaps FC striker in the New York box with a neat cross.

The Red Bulls, meanwhile, made their contribution to the number of scoring chances in the second half. On the hour mark, Miller hammered a left-footed strike from a De Rosario short corner just wide of goal, while there were late chances for Red Bulls substitute Matt Kassel and former Toronto FC captain De Rosario. 'Budweiser Man of the Match' Nolly made a fine save from Kassel's volleyed strike, while De Rosario curled a dangerous free kick just wide of the target from the edge of the Whitecaps FC box.

Dunfield had another chance to become the hero on 74 minutes when he broke in behind the Red Bulls backline after Chiumiento played a forward ball to his fellow midfielder. However, the Vancouver native was unable to test Sutton with his low shot from close range.

Both sides kept breaking forward in the dying stages, but were unable to create the decisive moment to earn all three points, as the final whistle confirmed a fifth home draw in MLS for Whitecaps FC. Vancouver have a quick turnaround from Saturday's match, as they travel to Southern California for a return meeting with Western Conference rivals Chivas USA on Wednesday evening. New York, meanwhile, return home to prepare for an Eastern Conference showdown with Columbus Crew at Red Bull Arena next Saturday.

Scoring Summary:
24' - VAN - Eric Hassli (penalty)
34' - NY  - Luke Rodgers (Jan Gunnar Solli, Roy Miller)

Match Stats:
Shots: Vancouver 11 - New York 16
Shots on Goal: Vancouver 4 - New York 4
Saves: Vancouver 3 - New York 3
Fouls: Vancouver 9 - New York 13
Offsides: Vancouver 7 - New York 4
Corners: Vancouver 4 - New York 6

75' - NY - Tim Ream

Vancouver Whitecaps FC
18.Jay Nolly; 8.Wes Knight, 14.Greg Janicki, 6.Jay DeMerit, 4.Alain Rochat; 22.Shea Salinas (31.Russell Teibert 67'), 7.Terry Dunfield, 28.Gershon Koffie, 20.Davide Chiumiento (16.Nizar Khalfan 77'); 37.Camilo (17.Omar Salgado 83'), 29.Eric Hassli

Subs not used: 1.Joe Cannon, 12.Jeb Brovsky, 19.Blake Wagner, 50.Mouloud Akloul

New York Red Bulls
24.Greg Sutton; 44.Carlos Mendes (15.Matt Kassel 70'), 5.Tim Ream, 22.Stephen Keel, 7.Roy Miller; 8.Jan Gunnar Solli, 2.Teemu Tainio, 11.Dwayne De Rosario (6.Corey Hertzog 92'+), 20.Joel Lindpere, 17.Juan Agudelo; 9.Luke Rodgers (13.Austin da Luz 70')

Subs not used: 18.Bouna Coundoul, 12.Tyler Lassiter, 16.John Rooney, 39.Teddy Schneider