VANCOUVER, BC – A shorthanded Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-23 squad battled to an important point in a 1-1 draw with Portland Timbers U-23 at Thunderbird Stadium on Friday.
The result means that Whitecaps FC now need only one more win, or a loss by Sounders FC U-23, to clinch one of three playoff spots in the United Soccer Leagues (USL) Premier Development League (PDL) Northwest Division. As well, with Portland failing to win, Victoria Highlanders FC clinched their first ever Northwest Division title.
With the ‘Caps U-18 Residency squad off to Houston, Texas, for Academy Finals Week, and with a number of injuries piling up, head coach Stuart Neely was forced to manage a thin squad, to say the least. That meant that Whitecaps FC Residency trainer Jon Poli got the call, starting at right back. The match also saw the PDL debut of Honduran Marlon Ramirez, who played striker after a pair of appearances with Vancouver’s Reserves.
The ‘Caps began to poor on the pressure 15 minutes into the match. First, Timbers goalkeeper David Meyes was forced to tip a lobbed shot by Cam Hundal over the crossbar. Sasa Plavsic then headed the ensuing corner kick on target but into the gloves of Meyes.
The breakthrough finally came on 22 minutes. Hundal did brilliantly to cut by his defender on the left before sending a pass across the goalmouth. Colton O’Neill found it at the other end and tucked it in from a tight angle to make it 1-0.
It didn’t take long for the visitors to respond. On 25 minutes, a scramble in the box popped out to Zack Foxhoven who drilled a superb volley off the bounce past a diving Marco Carducci and into the back of the net to level the score at 1-1.
The home side looked for a response three minutes later. After a corner kick came out the box, Hundal passed it back in low only to see it tipped just over the bar by James Farenhorst.
Just before halftime, ‘Caps Major League Soccer (MLS) midfielder Aminu Abdallah sent in an accurate cross to the backpost for Ramirez, but the Honduran couldn’t get a foot to it as the two sides went into the break knotted at 1-1.
The second half started well for the ‘Caps. On 49 minutes Bobby Jhutty hammered a dipping free kick off the crossbar. Then on 51 minutes, after a great run by Ramirez, Plavsic collected the ball and fed O’Neill, but Meyes came up with a huge stop to deny him a second goal.
On 61 minutes Portland nearly took the lead. A looping header from Eric Miller nearly caught Carducci off-guard, but the young ‘keeper kept his composure, backtracked and made an outstanding save to knock it up over the crossbar.
Carducci came up big again two minutes later. McKenna chased down a ball up field for the Timbers to get on a breakaway, but the Canadian U-17 Player of the Year dropped quickly to save his low strike.
The ‘Caps had a glorious chance to take the lead on 74 minutes when the fall found the feet of Sasa Plavsic 10 yards from goal, but the Dr. Charles Best Secondary alum fired high over the crossbar.
Vancouver were fortunate three minutes later when McKenna raced up the field and cut past Abdallah who was tracking back, but the ball rolled kindly into the hands of a sliding Carducci before the Timbers striker could catch it.
The Timbers caught a lucky break of their own on 80 minutes when ‘Caps midfielder Kevin Cobby was deemed to have handled the ball in the box, giving the Timbers a penalty kick. However, Barnes stepped up and nailed the ensuing kick straight off the crossbar. Carducci then stuffed his rebound header attempt for good measure with an acrobatic save, though the play was called back due to the kicker having touched it twice in a row.
Portland had a final late flurry on 89 minutes. John McFarlin hit the post, then Jaime Velasco got a shot towards net but was denied by Carducci.
In the end, the ‘Caps overcame tired legs to earn another important point in their quest for a playoff spot.
“Tonight, I thought the boys put in a very disciplined performance,” head coach Stuart Neely told whitecapsfc.com after the match. “We’ve changes things tactically a little bit for them, but they’ve been focused and they put in a solid, solid work rate. The PDL is more than just the result, but when you’re hot on the track for a playoff spot, results mean everything and I want these boys to get into the playoffs. This is about them putting in training week-in and week-out and we’ve won a point tonight.”
22' – VAN – Colton O’Neill (Cam Hundal)
25’ – POR – Zack Foxhoven
Shots: Vancouver 19 - Portland 9
Shots on Goal: Vancouver 8 - Portland 6
Saves: Vancouver 5 - Portland 7
Fouls: Vancouver 18 - Portland 14
Offsides: Vancouver 1 - Portland 5
Corners: Vancouver 6 - Portland 1
9’ – POR – Will Vatalis
41' – POR – Eric Miller
60’ – VAN – Kevin Cobby
61’ – POR – Reed McKenna
Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-23 Lineup:
22.Marco Carducci; 6.Jon Poli, 4.James Farenhorst, 16.Michael Winter, 26.Kevin Cobby; 10.Bobby Jhutty, 20.Aminu Abdallah, 23.Cam Hundal, 2.Colton O’Neill; 12.Sasa Plavsic (24.Peter Bow 77’), 18.Marlon Ramirez
3.Ethen Sampson, 5.Derrick Bassi
Portland Timbers U-23 Lineup:
1.David Meyes; 6.J.J. Greer (15.Mark Daus 68’), 17.Bryan Gallego, 2.Craig Nitti (24.Alex Walters 66’), 8.Jose Ribas (5.Mitch Lurie 58’); 21.Zachary Barnes, 13.Eric Miller, 9.Will Vatalis; 22.Zack Foxhoven (14.John McFarlin 60’), 25.Clark Phillips (26.Jaime Velasco 72’), 7.Reed McKenna
00.Paul Blanchette, 23.Travis Brent