Saturday, September 19, 2009

Vancouver Whitecaps played their last regular season game of the year last night, recording a 2-1 win against bottom placed side Cleveland City Stars.

The Ohio side gave the Whitecaps a sterner test than most were expecting and put Jay Nolly's goal under a lot of pressure, especially at the start of the second half.

When the Caps took the lead after just 11 minutes, with Charles Gbeke's diving header from a Marcus Haber cross from the byeline, many in the crowd thought that the floodgates would be opened but full credit has to go to Cleveland who fought hard and fought back with an equaliser just before halftime, when Teteh Bangura scored from a tight angle.

Cleveland started the second half well but it was Vancouver who were to wrap up the full points when Ibrahim Kante handled Randy Edwini-Bonsu's shot in the box and Haber converted the resultant penalty.

The sold out 5,642 crowd were very vocal all night and the Southside was packed and rocking throughout. This is just what the guys need to roar them on to back to back Championships.

The win wasn't enough for Vancouver to overhaul Rochester for the 6th placed spot and their comfortable 7th placed finish has earned them a first round playoff match up with Carolina Railhawks.

Although Carolina finished a close second to Portland in the final standings, I'm very happy with facing them in the playoffs. Vancouver's three games against them on league business this season saw a narrow 2-1 defeat in Carolina in the first match and two draws in August. In both of the latter two games Vancouver should have taken full points and can go into the games with a lot of optimism.

Vancouver's injury situation is the main concern going into the first game on Thursday and the full depth of the squad has been questioned and tested on a lot of occasions already this season.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm not a fan of the playoff system in place in both the USL and MLS. I feel it devalues the league and makes so much of the season seem really futile.

That said, once the playoffs are here, there's nothing like them and the atmosphere at the games is electric and the tension so high. It's just a shame that after watching games since April, you're left feeling that that's really the season starting now.

So with back to back Championships now the goal, let's see if Vancouver can rise to the occasion. They're going to have to do it via the most difficult route and playing all of the top sides on the way but they've shown over the course of the season that they have nothing to fear from any of the sides that are left.

I know Thursday can't come quick enough as far as we're concerned.

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