Eric Hassli San Jose Earthquakes BC Place
Bob Frid

Whitecaps FC pull off late heroics to defeat high-flying San Jose Earthquakes

VANCOUVER, BC - In what was a highly-entertaining Major League Soccer clash, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (5W-2L-2D) earned a dramatic 2-1 victory over Western Conference leaders San Jose Earthquakes (7W-2L-1D) on Bell Pitch at BC Place on Saturday afternoon.

Though they fell behind to an early Chris Wondolowski goal, Whitecaps FC brought San Jose’s seven-match unbeaten streak to an end with a first-half equalizer from Gershon Koffie and a dramatic winning strike from substitute Eric Hassli deep into stoppage time at the end of the match. It was a result that sent 19,271 ‘Caps supporters home happy, with the Blue and White making it four straight wins in all competitions with the weekend triumph.

“We are obviously very happy getting the win and to get the win the way we did,” said Whitecaps FC head coach Martin Rennie. “I just think it shows what the club is starting to become. It shows a club that believes, a team that believes, even if it’s the last minute, even if it’s in stoppage time, you keep going and have that belief.”

Having rested many of his players during the midweek win at FC Edmonton in the Amway Canadian Championship, Rennie played close to the same 4-3-3 line-up that started last Saturday’s MLS victory at Columbus Crew. Only two changes were made, with Alain Rochat returning to league action after recovering from a knee injury, while Camilo Sanvezzo replaced Hassli in the three-player attack.

Though it is the early stages of the 2012 season, there was a lot to look forward to between these two conference rivals, and the first half certainly did not disappoint. While it took a few minutes for the action to liven up after the opening kickoff, the game’s first goal arrived on 15 minutes from the visitors.

Showing the confidence of a side in form, San Jose took the lead through a league-leading 11th goal of the season from Wondolowski. Honduran winger Marvin Chavez created the goal with an excellent cross to the far post from the right flank. An unmarked Wondolowski was on hand to head the ball past Whitecaps FC goalkeeper Joe Cannon for his sixth goal in four all-time appearances versus Vancouver.

The Earthquakes’ opening goal brought a positive response from the home side, as they looked to get back on level terms. Matt Watson was unfortunate not to head Rochat’s cross on target on 22 minutes, while Rochat himself went ever so close with a downward header from Young-Pyo Lee’s free kick on 31 minutes.

Whitecaps FC would bring their supporters to their feet with a fine equalizer from a Camilo set-piece on 40 minutes. After Omar Salgado had won a free kick near the San Jose box, the Brazilian swung in a ball that Koffie headed past Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch for his first goal of the season and a 1-1 score at halftime.

Having expected more from his players in the first half, Rennie’s halftime team talk inspired Whitecaps FC to press their tired-looking visitors from Northern California in the second half, with fans treated to a pulsating 45 minutes of MLS action at BC Place. Busch was kept busy right after the restart, as he made three saves from Camilo and one stop from Koffie before the hour mark.

Playing their third league match in a week, Frank Yallop’s Earthquakes seemed content to absorb Vancouver pressure and hit their Canadian hosts on the counter-attack. Chavez, Wondolowski, and midfielder Sam Cronin had second-half opportunities, with the best of those chances coming on 66 minutes, as an unmarked Wondolowski failed to control a Chavez free kick that caught Whitecaps FC napping in the Vancouver box.

As the match entered the dying stages, the question left to answer was if San Jose could hold out for an away point or could Vancouver find a way through the Earthquakes’ defensive rearguard and earn a valuable three points. In time added on, Whitecaps FC thought their chance had gone when Hassli sliced a shot into the San Jose side-netting.

Yet, true to the spirit of playing to the final whistle, Whitecaps FC sent the home crowd into raptures with a last-gasp winner from Hassli four minutes into stoppage time. Fellow substitute Davide Chiumiento’s through ball deflected off of Earthquakes substitute Ike Opara to the big Vancouver striker. Hassli drove a low strike that deflected off of Busch’s outstretched hand and the inside of the far post before rolling into the net for his second goal in as many matches. The goal prompted Hassli’s teammates to mob him in the San Jose box, as a stunned Earthquakes side looked on.

Saturday’s win was Whitecaps FC’s first over San Jose in MLS history, and ended the Earthquakes’ undefeated run away from home this season (3W-1L-1D). Vancouver will quickly turn their attentions to the second leg of their Amway Canadian Championship semifinal, as they host FC Edmonton at BC Place on Wednesday night, with a 2-0 aggregate lead. San Jose, meanwhile, return home to play Western Conference rivals Chivas USA on Sunday, May 13.

Budweiser Man of the Match: Gershon Koffie

Scoring Summary:
15' - SJ - Chris Wondolowski (Marvin Chavez)
40' - VAN - Gershon Koffie (Camilo Sanvezzo)
90' + 4 - VAN - Eric Hassli (Davide Chiumiento)

Match Stats:
Shots: Vancouver 15 - San Jose 11
Shots on Goal: Vancouver 7 - San Jose 5
Saves: Vancouver 4 - San Jose 5
Fouls: Vancouver 9 - San Jose 11
Offsides: Vancouver 6 - San Jose 2
Corners: Vancouver 8 - San Jose 1

52' - SJ - Sam Cronin
54' - SJ - Marvin Chavez
54' - SJ - ­ Steven Beitashour
92' - VAN - ­ Jun Marques Davidson

Vancouver Whitecaps FC
1.Joe Cannon; 12.Young-Pyo Lee, 15.Martin Bonjour, 6.Jay DeMerit, 4.Alain Rochat; 28.Gershon Koffie, 27.Jun Marques Davidson, 16.Matt Watson (11.John Thorrington 61’); 7.Sebastien Le Toux, 37.Camilo Sanvezzo (29.Eric Hassli 74’), 17.Omar Salgado (20.Davide Chiumiento 82’)

Substitutes not used: 18.Brad Knighton, 3.Jordan Harvey, 13.Michael Nanchoff, 19.Carlyle Mitchell

San Jose Earthquakes
18.Jon Busch; 33.Steven Beitashour, 21.Jason Hernandez (55.Ike Opara 45’), 15.Justin Morrow, 12.Ramiro Corrales; 4.Sam Cronin, 30.Rafael Baca, 81.Marvin Chavez (11.Tressor Moreno 75’), 10.Simon Dawkins (7.Khari Stephenson 63’); 8.Chris Wondolowski, 24.Steven Lenhart

Substitutes not used: 1.David Bingham, 5.Brad Ring, 19.Sam Garza, 9.Sercan Guvenisik