Eric Hassli Gershon Koffie Chicago Fire
Bob Frid

Impressive Whitecaps FC see off Chicago Fire in Sunday MLS showdown at Empire Field

Playing their first match in the month of August, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (3W-11L-9D) bounced back from last weekend's disappointment to defeat Eastern Conference side Chicago Fire (2W-7L-13D) 4-2 in Major League Soccer on Sunday afternoon.

Two goals by 'Budweiser Man of the Match' Eric Hassli led Whitecaps FC to their third league win of the season on Bell Pitch at Empire Field, with Gershon Koffie and Camilo adding their names to the scoresheet in what was a fine home performance by the Blue and White. Though Dominic Oduro and substitute Orr Barouch replied for the Fire, victory for the 'Caps ended their winless run in MLS at six matches. Defeat for Chicago sees their winless run in the league extend to eight games. With two difficult road matches to come, Sunday's result will come as a timely boost for Whitecaps FC. The victory also confirmed Vancouver's first regular season series of results over an MLS opponent, with the 'Caps earning a win and a draw versus Chicago this season.

"We spent this week really focusing on commitment to defending, and not just the backs, the forwards as well," said Whitecaps FC head coach Tom Soehn. "Camilo and Eric (Hassli) did a fantastic job of pressuring and then winning balls to help us out in the middle of the park. Defensively, it was a much better commitment to what we need to do to win games. We obviously did enough to create opportunities, but it was the latter part of the focus in putting them on target. Good things happen when you put shots on target, and today, we were rewarded for that."

Soehn made three changes to the side that started last weekend's home defeat to the Galaxy. Jay Nolly replaced Joe Cannon in the Whitecaps FC goal, while in central midfield, Pete Vagenas came into the starting XI for Davide Chiumiento. There was also a first 'Caps competitive start for experienced midfielder John Thorrington, as he faced his old club on the right-hand side of midfield. It was Thorrington's first appearance for Vancouver in over four months. In attack, Camilo shifted up from midfield in place of the absent Mustapha Jarju, who was on international duty with The Gambia.

In what was a rare Sunday home match, gorgeous summer sunshine greeted a crowd of 18,714 on the Pacific National Exhibition grounds. What supporters saw was a confident and commanding display from the home side, with plenty of goals and action at both ends.

In fact, fans were treated to an explosive start, as Whitecaps FC created a bit of club history with their fastest goal scored in MLS. It took only 32 seconds for Hassli to hammer home his ninth goal of the season with his right foot. Jordan Harvey's forward ball was misplayed by Fire centre back Yamith Cuesta and rolled kindly to the big Frenchman. The former FC Zurich striker then powered his strike past Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson for a 1-0 Vancouver lead.

It was just the type of start that the 'Caps needed, and as in many recent matches, Vancouver's first-half attacking play saw the home side get forward with real purpose. Koffie tested Johnson with a long-range strike on 16 minutes - an effort that became a preview of what was to come from the Ghanaian youth international.

While they would have been disappointed by their start, Chicago looked dangerous with their short-passing game in the first half. On 23 minutes, a neat passing sequence out of the Fire backline brought the visitors level. Sebastian Grazzini cleverly redirected Josip Mikulic's forward pass into the path of Oduro, who then eluded the 'Caps defence before striking home his sixth goal of the season to make it 1-1.

However, that scoreline lasted about a minute, as Whitecaps FC restored their advantage with another long-range strike. This time, it was central midfielder Koffie that found his way past Johnson with a well-hit shot that bounced in front and past the diving Chicago keeper for 2-1. It was a well-earned first MLS goal for the West African.

As proceedings neared halftime, Whitecaps FC had a glorious chance to be two goals in front on Chicago after match referee Chris Penso awarded the home side a penalty following Cuesta's foul on Camilo in the Fire box. Hassli stepped up to take the spot kick with his right foot, but Johnson guessed correctly and stopped the Frenchman's effort with a dive to his right.

Such missed opportunities can be turning points in matches, but Whitecaps FC returned for the second half with the purpose of securing all three points. They would extend their lead to 3-1 on 48 minutes when fine combination play between Harvey and Shea Salinas allowed Camilo to neatly turn his Fire marker to the inside, make a run into the Fire box, and slip a shot past Johnson for his seventh goal of the season.

While Chicago remained a threat going forward after the break, one of the stories of Sunday's match was the Fire's struggles to deal with Vancouver's flowing attack. It was those defensive frailties that allowed Whitecaps FC to seal the win with a fourth goal on 72 minutes. After being fouled by Fire captain Logan Pause, Camilo forced Johnson into spilling a rebound of his well-hit free kick. Koffie was first to pounce, but his shot struck the post and bounced out to Hassli, who easily scored his second goal of the match - and 10th of the season - for a 4-1 Vancouver lead.

To their credit, the Fire kept the 'Caps on their toes with their ability to counter-attack with pace. It paid off for Chicago on 80 minutes, as Barouch took a forward ball from Patrick Nyarko and fended off his Whitecaps FC markers before scoring his second goal of the season to make it 4-2.

It was as close as the Fire would get, and as three minutes of time added on were played, 'Caps supporters stood and applauded their side home to the final whistle and a well-deserved league victory. Whitecaps FC will now turn their attentions to a challenging trip to Washington, D.C., and their first-ever MLS meeting with D.C. United next Saturday night. Chicago will remain on the road, as they visit Eastern Conference rivals New York Red Bulls next Saturday evening.

Scoring Summary:
1' - VAN - Eric Hassli (Jordan Harvey)
23' - CHI - Dominic Oduro (Sebastian Grazzini)
24' - VAN - Gershon Koffie (Eric Hassli, Camilo)
48' - VAN - Camilo (Shea Salinas, Jordan Harvey)
72' - VAN - Eric Hassli
80' - CHI - Orr Barouch (Patrick Nyarko)

Match Stats:
Shots: Vancouver 10 - Chicago 15
Shots on Goal: Vancouver 7 - Chicago 8
Saves: Vancouver 6 - Chicago 3
Fouls: Vancouver 16 - Chicago 23
Offsides: Vancouver 3 - Chicago 2
Corners: Vancouver 2 - Chicago 3

4' - VAN - Jordan Harvey
26' - CHI - Dominic Oduro
33' - VAN - Alain Rochat
53' - CHI - Marco Pappa
71' - CHI - Logan Pause

Vancouver Whitecaps FC
18.Jay Nolly; 26.Jordan Harvey, 4.Alain Rochat (31.Russell Teibert 56'), 2.Michael Boxall, 25.Jonathan Leathers;  11.John Thorrington (20.Davide Chiumiento 45'), 28.Gershon Koffie, 33.Peter Vagenas, 22.Shea Salinas; 37.Camilo, 29.Eric Hassli (12.Jeb Brovsky 84')

Subs not used: 1.Joe Cannon, 14.Greg Janicki, 16.Nizar Khalfan, 17.Omar Salgado

Chicago Fire
25.Sean Johnson; 12.Logan Pause, 89.Yamith Cuesta, 23.Josip Mikulic, 13.Gonzalo Segares; 16.Marco Pappa (29.Cristian Nazarit 56'), 10.Sebastian Grazzini (15.Orr Barouch 56'), 11.Daniel Paladini (9.Baggio Husidic 70'), 17.Pavel Pardo; 14.Patrick Nyarko, 8.Dominic Oduro

Subs not used: 1.Jon Conway; 3.Dan Gargan, 6.Jalil Anibaba, 21.Michael Videira

Budweiser Man of the Match: Eric Hassli