Friday, August 21, 2009

Match Report: Charleston Battery v Vancouver Whitecaps (USL1)

And the games keep coming. So does the Caps relentless schedule.

Vancouver Whitecaps played their third game in six days last night and they don’t come much tougher this season than away to the second placed Charleston Battery at Blackbaud Stadium.

You wouldn’t have thought it was a tough proposition though as the Whitecaps really went for it from the off.

After a couple of dangerous balls into the box, which the Battery defence dealt with, Vancouver opened the scoring after just four minutes.

Wes Knight got the ball just inside the Battery half and played a perfectly flighted long ball into the box, falling right to the feet of Charles Gbeke, who was between two Battery defenders seven yards out. He wasn’t going to miss from there and easily buried it past Keith Wiggans in the Charleston goal for 1-0 Vancouver.

It was the perfect start for the Whitecaps and they weren’t showing any tiredness from Tuesday exertions, at least not yet. Charles Gbeke in particular was looking really spritely after the shift he had put in two days ago.

As the first half ticked by and possession was shared, Charleston had a spell of concerted pressure around a quarter of an hour in, but their best chance was when Jay Nolly was unable to get hold of a dangerous Tsuyoshi Yoshitake corner but no one could take advantage of the rare slip from the Caps keeper.

It was Yoshitake again who caused problems on 23 minutes when he whipped in a dangerous free kick from the corner of the box which Nolly spilled before recovering and clearing.

Two minutes later and Charleston gave away a really cheap corner and were nearly made to pay dearly but Gbeke could only watch on as his bullet six yard header from Martin Nash’s corner crashed off the bar and over, with Wiggans well beaten. An inch lower and it would have been a two goal advantage to the Caps. As we so often say in this blog, it’s a game of inches sometimes.

As in a lot of games this season, a player with pace seems to cause the Caps defence no end of problems and Spicer was the man to watch in this game. The Caps were playing pretty tight, with only the looseness of the left back position causing a few concerns though.

Vancouver weren’t allowing the Battery much offensive danger from close range but their tight play was nearly caught out with ten minutes of the half remaining when Ian Fuller slipped the ball in to the dangerous looking Darren Spicer, but Nolly came out to get the ball first.

Stephen Armstrong was forced off with an injury as the game approached half time, catching the Battery by surprise with no subs ready. Ansu Toure then showed sportsmanship well beyond expectations when he inexplicably played the ball out to allow Charleston to bring their sub on and their team back to full strength. Bizarre, stupid, I dunno. Words fail me!

As the game went into first half stoppage time, Charleston had a quick break on the right but the Caps defence cleared the danger for a corner which the Battery couldn’t take advantage of.

The half time whistle came with the Whitecaps going in with a well deserved one goal lead. There may have been the odd dangerous ball into their box but Vancouver were well in control of the game and untroubled for the first half.

As so often is the case, the half time break gives a team a boost and unfortunately it was the Battery on this occasion and two minutes in the game was tied.

Vancouver’s Lyle Martin gave away a free kick on the left and Yoshitake played it into the box to Fuller, who managed to rise unmarked and turn midair to head the ball past a helpless Nolly from six yards out. 1-1. A great header, but a bad goal to lose for the Caps. Game on.

Charleston were the team in the ascendancy now and Scott Buete tested Nolly from just outside the box following a good Battery build up.

Vancouver came back though and as the hour mark approached, Nash curled a 20 yard free kick round the wall but Wiggans easily saved low to his right.

On yet another muggy night on their travels, Vancouver took the opportunity to bring on some fresh legs with Gordon Chin and Tyrell Burgess coming on for Wes Knight and Ansu Toure, respectively.

The Whitecaps had recovered their composure and were dictating a lot of the play once again. Nizar Khalfan led a blistering two on two break from a Charleston corner, which led to O’Brian Woodbine ending it in it’s tracks with a shoulder block just inside the Battery half, leading to a booking for the Battery defender.

Nash looped an effort wide and Gbeke headed a good chance just over as the Caps tried to restore their lead.

Vancouver had a lucky escape on 70 minutes when Randi Patterson played a dangerous ball across the Caps goal but just beyond Spicer. As the ball was cleared, a neat passing move led to a free kick on the edge of the box.

Set piece danger man Yoshitake fired in a fierce grasscutter, which took a slight deflection and forced Nolly to make a good save low to his left for a corner.

The Caps came right back and Chris Pozniak, who had come up for a corner, just failed to get on the end of a long Chin pass over the Battery defence.

The game was certainly up for grabs now and Patterson had a volley well blocked with quarter of an hour remaining.

Charlston were looking the stronger team against a visibly tiring Vancouver side and Woodbine saw his effort well held by Nolly.

With the Caps hanging on a little, Teitur Thordarson freshened up the Vancouver attacking, replacing Marcus Haber, who had a pretty quiet game, with the pacy Randy Edwini-Bonsu and the substitute nearly made an immediate impact when the ball hit off him at close range but out for a goal kick.

The game was playing out to a draw but Vancouver had a good penalty shout in the 90th minute when Edwini-Bonsu went down in the box but the referee was having nothing of it.

Moments later the nippy sub had a run in the box ended for a corner which the Caps wasted.

With three minutes of stoppage time signalled, Vancouver were finishing with a flourish and Khalfan ran up the line and saw his cross cleared for a corner.

That was the last real action of the match and the referee blew for full time and the points were shared.

If Vancouver were offered two points from these games against Carolina and Charleston at the start of the week, they would probably have taken them. Coming so close to taking all six will smart a little but the point against the Battery gives Vancouver a three point cushion over Miami in that all important final play off spot.

With Miami having two games in hand now, the game on Sunday at Swangard Stadium is the most important League match of the season for Vancouver.

With Miami facing table toppers Portland the night before, the Caps will have no better opportunity to give their playoff hopes a major boost.

Let’s just hope they manage to get a lot of rest between now and then. The Southside will be in full voice to cheer them on.

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