Whitecaps Take Season Finale
Vancouver Whitecaps FC ended their 2009 USL First Division regular season in positive fashion with a 2-1 home victory over Cleveland City Stars on Friday evening.
An early strike by Charles Gbeke gave the Whitecaps the lead before Cleveland City pulled level with a first-half strike from Teteh Bangura. The 'Caps then secured their first-ever win over the Stars after substitute Marlon James struck home a second-half penalty. The win saw Vancouver end their regular season campaign with a record of 11W-10L-9D for a seventh-place finish in the league standings. Defeat for Cleveland City saw them complete their inaugural USL-1 campaign at the bottom of the standings in 11th place and out of a playoff berth with a record of 4W-19L-7D.
Friday's match proved to be of little significance to the Whitecaps, in terms of league positions, as other results on Friday ensured a first-round playoff meeting with Carolina RailHawks next week. Carolina's 2-0 home win over Montreal Impact meant they secured second place in the USL-1 table, while Rochester Rhinos' 0-0 home draw with Charleston Battery denied the Whitecaps any hope of moving up one place to sixth.
Post Match InterviewsAs a result, the 'Caps will begin the defence of their USL-1 championship title by taking on the RailHawks in a two-match, aggregate score series next week. The Blue and White will host the first leg of the series at Swangard Stadium next Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. PDT before travelling to Cary, North Carolina, for the second leg on Sunday, September 27. Kickoff from WakeMed Soccer Park is set for 2 p.m. PDT.
As for Friday's match, Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson made four changes to the side that started last Sunday's 2-1 home win over Austin Aztex. Injuries forced the Icelandic tactician to replace both his centre backs, as Shaun Pejic and Chris Pozniak made way for Mason Trafford and Nigerian defender Michael Ndubuisi Onwatuegwu. Known commonly as 'Michael O', the big African made his Whitecaps debut versus Cleveland City. In midfield, Lyle Martin replaced the injured Nizar Khalfan, while striker Marcus Haber returned to the starting XI, as he replaced James to partner Gbeke up front for the home side. Goalkeeper Jay Nolly captained the Whitecaps for the first time in his career on Friday.
Stars head coach Rod Underwood, meanwhile, made three changes to the side that started last night's 2-1 defeat at USL-1 regular season champions Portland Timbers. Evan Bush replaced Hunter Gilstrap in Cleveland's goal, while Ibrahim Kante replaced former Whitecaps reserves player Paul Ballard in the visitors' backline. In midfield, former Minnesota Thunder player Leo Gibson replaced Arsene Oka for the Ohio-based outfit.
Photo GalleryOn a pleasant evening under the lights at Swangard, an over-capacity sold-out crowd of 5,642 saw the Whitecaps dominate much of the first-half proceedings, but still found themselves level at the break. Friday's sell-out was the 12th of the year for the Whitecaps, which set a new club record.
As has been the case in many of their home contests, the 'Caps applied early pressure from the opening kickoff, with Gbeke heading a double-flicked throw-in from Wes Knight over the Cleveland City crossbar on six minutes.
It was a sign of things to come, and on 11 minutes, the Whitecaps took the lead with a simple cross and finish. Martin's forward pass found Haber streaking into the Stars box on the right. His byline cross found Gbeke unmarked in front of goal, with the Canadian international able to dive and easily head home his league-leading 12th goal of the season and 13th goal of the year.
With an early lead, the Whitecaps kept attacking soon after played resumed, with Haber finding strike partner Gbeke again with a low cross in the Stars box. This time, however, Bush was equal to the big striker, as he dove to block his low shot away for a corner.
Though it was a second match in as many nights for Cleveland City, they did produce a couple of chances from two set-pieces that 'Caps debutant Michael O had conceded on both occasions. On 18 minutes, Nolly did well to knock away Ryan Stewart's curling free kick from the left, then five minutes later, Bangura headed another Stewart set-piece from the left over the Vancouver crossbar.
The Whitecaps pressed again after the half-hour mark, with Ansu Toure unable to find Haber with a low cross from the left on 33 minutes, while hard-working central midfielder Gordon Chin struck a long-distance shot high and wide of the target a minute later.
Whitecaps fans were then given a bit of excitement from goalscorer Gbeke, as he tried to score with an ambitious bicycle kick on 40 minutes. Unfortunately, his effort from Martin's cross flew wide of the far post. A minute later, Bush needed to save Trafford's low drive on goal from the edge of the Stars box.
With the 'Caps seemingly looking comfortable in the latter stages of the half, the Stars stunned their hosts by equalizing in the 45th minute. Jason Hotchkin's forward pass from the left found Bangura in the Whitecaps box. The Sierra Leone international was then able to elude the attentions of his marker Trafford before roofing a right-footed shot over the head of Nolly and into the back of the net for 1-1.
A further two minutes of time added on were played, but the halftime whistle left an unsatisfying taste in the mouths of Whitecaps players and fans, with both sides now back on level terms at the break.
The start of the second half saw Thordarson make two changes, with Luca Bellisomo coming for Michael O at centre back, while speedy youngster Randy Edwini-Bonsu replaced Gbeke in the Whitecaps attack.
The substitutions, however, did not have the immediate impact that the home side were looking for, as Cleveland City looked the better team shortly after the restart.
On 49 minutes, Bangura got a step on substitute Bellisomo by breaking in on the Whitecaps goal. The Stars goalscorer was then forced wide by the onrushing Nolly in the Vancouver box before Bangura turned back and forced a point-blank save from the 'Caps number one.
It was a real escape for the home side, and on 54 minutes, Nolly needed to make another important save from Hotchkin's well-struck shot to give away a Stars corner. Two minutes later, Bangura headed Hotchkin's fine cross from the left wide of the target for the Stars.
More Whitecaps substitutions were to follow, as Thordarson introduced Tyrell Burgess for Toure in midfield on 57 minutes, while James came on for Haber to partner Edwini-Bonsu in attack five minutes later.
Yet, Whitecaps fans started calling for a fifth and final substitution to take place, and on 72 minutes, Thordarson granted his supporters' wishes by handing fit-again winger Justin Moose his first appearance for the club in three-and-a-half months. The last time the speedy midfielder saw action with Vancouver was on May 30 during a 2-0 defeat in Portland, with Moose going down with a foot injury early in the contest at PGE Park.
If his introduction delighted fans, what occurred on 73 minutes brought even more smiles around Swangard, as the 'Caps were awarded a penalty by match referee Geoff Gamble after Edwini-Bonsu's powerful goal-bound strike hit the arm of Kante in the Cleveland City box. James stepped up to take the spot kick and beat Bush to make it 2-1. It was the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines international's ninth goal of the year and third goal from the penalty spot this season.
Feeling more comfortable after restoring their lead, Moose looked to make a contribution with some incisive play down the right flank. On 83 minutes, the Statesville, North Carolina, native combined with James before streaking down the right and playing in a cross to Edwini-Bonsu, but the youngster's header flew wide at the near post. Two minutes later, Edwini-Bonsu tried to take advantage of a poor clearance to another Moose cross into the Stars' box from the right, but his tight-angle shot hit the side-netting.
With time running out on Cleveland City's first season in USL-1, the visitors did their best to try and earn a point from Friday's match. On 87 minutes, Hotchkin forced a good save from Nolly with his shot from the edge of the box before substitute Gordon Kljestan struck a free kick just over the Vancouver crossbar, as the match entered three minutes of time added on.
The game's final chance landed to youngster Edwini-Bonsu, who after beating Cleveland City's offside trap, seemed destined to score on a breakaway. However, the striker's first-ever USL-1 goal would have to wait yet again, as Edwini-Bonsu was pushed too far wide by the onrushing Bush, with the forward then hitting a shot agonizingly across the face of goal and away to safety.
It mattered little to the final scoreline, however, as referee Gamble's final whistle ensured the Whitecaps finish the 2009 USL-1 regular season above .500 with Friday's win.
90 FULL MINUTES
Vancouver's focus will now turn to next week's playoffs, with the Whitecaps one of seven USL-1 clubs to contest this year's league championship. With regular season champions Portland earning a first-round bye after claiming top spot, the first round of the playoffs will consist of three two-match, aggregate score series, with second meeting seventh, third meeting sixth, and fourth meeting fifth.
The three first-round winners will then be joined by Portland in the playoff semifinals, with the Timbers facing the lowest remaining seed. That could turn out to be the Whitecaps, should Vancouver overcome Carolina in the first round. The semifinals will also be a two-match, aggregate score series, with matches taking place between the dates of Thursday, October 1, and Sunday, October 4.
The 2009 USL-1 Championship Final will also be a two-match, aggregate score series, with the first leg taking place during the Thanksgiving weekend of October 10 and 11, while the second leg is set for the following weekend of October 17 and 18.
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USL First Division Stories from September 19, 2009
- Miami FC Falls Short in its Season Finale - Fort Lauderdale Strikers
- Impact face Battery in quarterfinal round - Montreal Impact
- Playoff Tickets Now On Sale - Vancouver Whitecaps
- Battery ties Rhinos - Charleston Battery
- Whitecaps Take Season Finale - Vancouver Whitecaps
- City Stars Fall 2-1 to Vancouver in Final Game of Season - Cleveland City Stars
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