Whitecaps Maintain Their Position At Top Of The NASL Conference
In the first game of a two-match home stand, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (4W-2L-3D) maintained their position at the top of the NASL Conference standings following a 1-0 home win over FC Tampa Bay (5W-2L-3D) in the USSF D-2 Pro League on Sunday afternoon.
Captain Martin Nash's penalty strike just before halftime proved the difference for the Blue and White in this first-ever meeting between Vancouver and the newly-formed Rowdies at Swangard Stadium.
Though they had to play the final stages with ten men after defender Luca Bellisomo was sent off for two bookable offences, as well as endure some anxious moments from the USL Conference club, the Whitecaps made it two straight home wins in the league with the weekend result. The 'Caps also took their number of clean sheets at Swangard this season to seven matches, while the Rowdies' unbeaten run in USSF D-2 comes to an end at seven games.
Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson refreshed his midfield by playing winger Justin Moose on the left-hand side and Nash alongside Jonny Steele in central midfield. Tampa Bay's starting XI, meanwhile, included former 'Caps striker Aaron Wheeler in the visitors' attack.
On a wet and rainy afternoon in Burnaby, BC, the Whitecaps had to endure a bright start from the Rowdies, who were pushing as many as four players in attacking positions, with the Florida outfit playing in a 4-2-4 formation at certain stages of the opening half. Playing in front of a sold-out Swangard crowd of 5,288, Tampa Bay had the run of play for the first quarter of an hour, though most of that early spell seemed uneventful.
It was not until the 19th minute that proceedings became more interesting, with Steele volleying a partially cleared Nash corner high and wide of the target. A minute later, Rowdies midfielder Scott Buete forced a great diving save from Whitecaps goalkeeper Jay Nolly after he struck a fierce shot on the Vancouver goal.
The Whitecaps soon responded and forced a fine save from Rowdies goalkeeper Daryl Sattler on 24 minutes. Zurab Tsiskaridze's low cross found Cornelius Stewart at the near post, but Sattler was on hand to block away the young striker's first-time effort. At the other end, Wheeler caused the Whitecaps backline some problems. The tall forward forced a save from Nolly before Bellisomo made a fine block to deny Wheeler's dangerous run and shot on 29 minutes.
It was developing into an open contest in the latter stages of the first half. On 32 minutes, Stewart could not keep his header down after he connected with Nash's deflected cross from the left flank. Three minutes later, Sattler needed to deal with Steele's through ball for the streaking Haber in the Tampa Bay box.
As the match neared halftime, the Whitecaps were able to create the decisive point of the contest in the 45th minute. Haber took a pass from winger Philippe Davies along the right flank before making a penetrating run past Rowdies centre back Robert Valentino. Haber then reached the byline before cutting a dangerous ball back towards the centre of the Tampa Bay box. In a bid to block Haber's pass, a sliding Buete handled the ball in clear view of match referee Mathieu Bourdeau, who duly pointed to the penalty spot before booking the former Atlanta Silverbacks and Charleston Battery man for his indiscretion.
Nash stepped up to hit his spot kick past Sattler and give the Whitecaps a valuable one-goal lead at halftime. It was Nash's first goal of the season, and took the Vancouver captain above Steve Kindel and into 12th on the Whitecaps all-time career scoring list with 98 points.
It was a positive conclusion to a challenging first half for the 'Caps, and following the break, Thordarson's side looked more solid in dealing with the Rowdies attack-minded formation.
Searching for a decisive second goal, Steele had a chance on 51 minutes with a close-range turn and shot that flew high of Sattler's goal before the Rowdies number one was forced to tip Nash's goal-bound piledriver over his own crossbar for a corner six minutes later. Then on 62 minutes, Whitecaps youngster Davies had a glorious chance to score his first goal for the club. Substitute Ansu Toure reached the Tampa Bay byline before cutting a ball back across goal that both Stewart and Sattler missed, but fell kindly for Davies. With the goal at his mercy, the midfielder's low strike was well saved by a retreating Sattler for another Whitecaps corner.
It meant the match remained well poised, and to their credit, Tampa Bay showed signs of why they have been in such good form in recent weeks. Midfielder Pascal Millien drove a shot just wide on 69 minutes before a scare in the Whitecaps box two minutes later saw Nolly and Rowdies substitute Aaron King collide in pursuit of a forward ball, with Wheeler then failing to hit an open net with a free header. On 73 minutes, a Gordon Kljestan free kick was assuredly dealt with by the hands of Nolly.
What was looking to be a hard-fought three points at home for the 'Caps became more challenging on 80 minutes, as Vancouver were reduced to ten men when Bellisomo was shown a red card after receiving a second booking from referee Bourdeau for a late sliding challenge on Wheeler. It was tough way for the in-form centre back to end Sunday's match, with his first yellow card looking somewhat harsh after he cleanly won the ball in an earlier tackle.
From the subsequent free kick, Rowdies midfielder Takuya Yamada's set-piece saw Nolly badly mis-connect with a clearing punch, as the ball fell very kindly to King. With an open goal to aim for in the six-yard box, the former Charleston striker hit his first-time shot wide of the target - much to the the relief of Whitecaps supporters.
King's chance was a real let-off for the 'Caps, who proceeded to see out the remaining minutes of normal time out before enduring over six-and-a-half minutes of time added on. Both sides had chances at either end before the final whistle, with Nash unable to get his lines right with a chipped effort on the break, while King could not make up for his earlier miss after Nolly did well to block his strike in the Whitecaps box with his legs.
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