Wednesday, June 24, 2009

After a week to forget, the Vancouver Whitecaps aimed to get their season back on track last night with an away match against Cleveland City Stars at the Middlefield Cheese Stadium in Bedford, Ohio. The game being played on an artificial gridiron pitch, complete with markings, at the home of the Bearcats.

Sitting second bottom of USL1, six points behind the 8th placed Whitecaps, Cleveland hadn’t had the best of starts to their debut first division season, recording just three wins in their 13 games to date. They have, however, recently completed a good bit of business in taking on some of LA Galaxy’s developmental players from the MLS.

Still, all that said, it should have been an easy Whitecaps win. Not so as it turned out.

The Caps started brightly and with Charles Gbeke sitting out the second game of his suspension, a lot was resting on Marcus Haber to do the business up front. The big Canadian duly obliged and nearly opened the scoring on 16 minutes but Hunter Gilstrap did well in the Cleveland goal and rushed out to block the danger.

Moments later and the Caps had a two on one, but again Gilstrap kept them out.

The Whitecaps pressure finally turned into a goal on the 18 minute mark when Haber raced down the left and his shot went through Gilstrap’s arms for 1-0 Whitecaps.

This is when the Caps should have turned the screw, especially as Cleveland weren’t at the races, and they tested the Cleveland goalie on another few occasions before allowing Cleveland back into the game and the Ohio side made them pay just before the half hour mark when Leo Gibson waltzed past the static Caps defence and tied it up at 1-1 with his first goal of the season.

The goal should have given both teams a kick up the ass, but unfortunately it only seemed to spur on the home side and as the game approached added on time in the first half a ridiculous penalty decision gave Cleveland the chance to take the lead.

The ball was played through to Gibson in the box but Takashi Hirano won the race and as he turned to get the ball out, Gibson went down with seemingly no contact and the ref pointed to the spot.

Pato Aguilera stepped up and the Bolivian buried it low to Jay Nolly’s right to net his second goal of the season and to give Cleveland a shock 2-1 lead at the half.

The second half saw little in dangerous goalmouth action, as the Whitecaps piled the pressure on the Stars, winning a string of corners and free kicks, but seldom causing much panic in the Cleveland box. The Stars players were struggling to keep hold of the ball, never mind get out of their own half.

Jay Nolly was having an easy second half but Gilstrap kept out the Caps attack with a couple of saves late on, with Marlon James coming closest with a header with four minutes left.

As the game entered stoppage time it looked like it the Whitecaps woes were to continue.

Then up stepped Captain Canuck Martin Nash. Collecting the ball in acres of space, he used the bounce on the artificial surface to full effect and hit a low 25 yards screamer into the bottom left corner of the Stars net, with a fortunate bounce on the way.

Two apiece and the Caps got out of there with a much needed point in front of a low crowd of 1,066.

It was a game they should and could have won. They really need to regroup now and work on sticking away those chances. There’s still a lot of time to get their season back on track though and they now have a long break until they entertain Minnesota on July 9th.

Let’s hope the break does the trick.

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