Caps Still Have All To Play For After Brave Fight Back

Match Report: Vancouver Whitecaps v Montreal Impact (USL 2009 Championship Game First Leg)

You need a bit of skill, a bit of luck and some breaks to deliver a Championship winning season. Vancouver Whitecaps have seen a lot of the first and a bit of the second on their way to reaching the 2009 USL Championship final. The latter has seemed to desert them at times this year and that was again the case in yesterday’s first leg match up at Swangard Stadium.

5,886 fans crammed into the stadium to witness the first ever all Canadian match up in a North American football Championship match yesterday, as the League’s 7th and 5th ranked teams battled for the title.

The match had added spice following Montreal’s embarrassing capitulation to Toronto FC in the final Canadian championship game in June. A defeat that cheated Vancouver out of their rightful Champions League place. That was a game that will long live in the memories of Vancouver fans and the Southsiders reminded Montreal, and viewers around the world, that they are Canada’s shame with a 30 foot banner that read “Je Me Souviens 18.6.09” – “I remember”.

After a disappointing first half, the exciting and explosive second period was marred by a shocking refereeing performance from a female official who looked to be clueless and completely lose control of the proceedings. it was a performance that adds weight to those that feel that women officials have no place in the men’s game. I can’t argue with that after her display.

The fact that referee went to university in Montreal and is listed on some sites as being from Montreal (although born in Ontario), raises a lot of questions as well – namely what were the USL thinking of? At a time when many of the major players in the League want to break away and form their own new League, and following the second leg scheduling debacle that we saw earlier this week, you have to question whether anyone at USL headquarters actually know what the hell they’re doing.

As for the game itself, Montreal dominated the early proceedings, without really threatening the Caps goal. Vancouver didn’t look like the same team that turned in the battling performance in Portland last Sunday to claim their place in the final. The Impact were the more experienced side and whether this helped them or the Caps players were a little overawed by the occasion to start with I don’t know.

Both teams hit chances high and wide but with Montreal finishing the first half the stronger, they delivered a killer blow just on half time. Stephen deRoux’s cross from the left was aimed into the box towards Roberto Brown. Brown went down low for the header, completely missed the ball and it richoteted off Shaun Pejic’s midriff and flew past Jay Nolly into the net. 1-0 Montreal.

It wasn’t the best half in Pejic’s Caps career, as he was found wanting for pace at times, but he wasn’t alone and Vancouver ended up defending too deep.

Going to Montreal for the second leg and chasing the game is not what Vancouver wanted and in an attempt to get back into the game, the Caps made two changes at half time.

These changes weren’t to prove the possible match changing one though, that came six minutes into the half when ugly ref Carol Anne Chenard made an ugly decision and one that could decide the destination of the Championship.

Whitecaps captain, Martin Nash, was fouled inside Vancouver’s half. The dowdy Quebec ref didn’t give the foul and Nash took his frustration out by clattering Brown seconds later. It was a rash challenge that merited a booking, but Brown’s histrionic reaction (and that of the Montreal bench), seemed to influence the stupid cow in the middle to giving a red card.

From that moment on, the woman in the middle lost control, authority and respect. Brown’s screaming like a baby obviously hit home in her natural maternal instincts. All that was missing was her running over to him and cradling him in her bosom. It was also interesting to see how quickly Brown became miraculously healed. Chenard was duped.

It was starting to look like a disaster for Vancouver and their hopes of back to back Championships, as the series could be ended after just one match. To their full credit though, the Whitecaps players fought back and were a far better team with the ten men than full strength and the sending off seemed to light a much needed fire in them.

With 55 minutes on the clock, Montreal’s goal creater turned Vancouver goal creater as deRoux played the ball back from the edge of the Caps box straight to Marcus Haber at the edge of the centre circle. Haber then showed why he is the USL Rookie of the Year, collecting the ball and running over 60 yards before curling a beauty past Matt Jordan in the Impact goal and into the bottom right hand corner. 1-1 and game back on, against all the odds.

Card happy Chenard proceeded to book Haber for his celebration, which was nothing more than running up to the fence for a few brief seconds. Clueless.

The goal shocked Montreal and they turned the pressure back up. Brown headed an effort wide before crashing a shot off the post just past the hour mark from 12 yards out.

The Impact weren’t to be denied though and retook the lead on 63 minutes. Peter Byers beat the Whitecaps offside trap in a bawhair borderline decision, hit the byeline, cut back and somehow hit the ball home past Jay Nolly at his nearside post. It was an effort you’d expect Nolly to keep out at least 99% of the time but somehow this time it sneaked in. 2-1 Montreal and more worries for the Caps.

The Caps defence weren’t having their best night and Byers managed to score despite the presence of three defenders.

Byers celebrations saw him leaving the pitch and celebrating with the Impact bench but he received no yellow card.

Vancouver showed just why they are the defending USL Champions though and fought back once more and Montreal’s lead lasted only two minutes.

A long Wes Knight throw from the right was headed out back to Knight and he played it back in quickly straight to the head of Marlon James, whose downward header left Jordan standing and sent the Southside into raptures.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGOj4DXsHrI&hl=en&fs=1&color1=0x006699&color2=0x54abd6]

Once again the Caps celebrations earned a booking for basically nothing. The booking led to Caps boss Teitur Thordarson having a word with the fourth official about the referee’s performance and inconsistancies, which he also questioned in his after match comments.

For the Caps to be level was amazing, but their current workrate even more so.

Montreal kept the pressure on with their man advantage and deRoux whipped a tantalising cross into the Caps box with 71 minutes gone. The cross was met by Brown and he no doubt gave out some more baby screams as his header crashed off the bar. The rebound fell to former Cap Eddie Sebrango, but Jay Nolly scrambled across goal to turn the ball away on the line. The ball then broke back to Brown and he hit it high and wide.

This was a close escape for Vancouver and just as the match seemed to be being played out to an incredibly brave draw for the Caps, Montreal struck with a minute to go to take a lead into the second leg.

Jay Nolly did well to save Rocco Placentino’s long range effort, but the rebound was met in the air by Sebrango who rose high to head home from a yard out and break Vancouver hearts.

Sebrango’s goal once again set off wild Montreal celebrations and once again there was no card shown.

Vancouver then miraculously nearly levelled for a third time, when Marlon James agonisingly saw his stoppage time effort curl the wrong way and inches past the post.

The Whitecaps players were visibly gutted when the final whistle came, as the Southside tried to raise their spirits with chants of “we’ll win in Montreal, we’ll win in Montreal”.

Montreal hasn’t proved a happy hunting ground for Vancouver but if they ever needed the motivation to win there, this season has given it.

As for clueless Chenard, it was a game full of phantom calls and non calls (for both teams) and imbalanced cautions. She was apparently hit on the face by a water bottle as she went up the tunnel. All we can say to that is that we hope it hurt. Any damage can only make her piglike features look a little better.

The defeat wasn’t just down to the officials though. The Caps defending, which has been exposed several times this season, was woeful at times. This needs to be really tightened up for the second leg.

As it stands, Montreal have scored in the opening second and there’s still 90 minutes to go. Vancouver can still do this. Maybe we’ll even get a ref from BC.

Believe.

FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 2 – 3 Montreal Impact

*** For more videos from the final (and other Whitecaps action), check out AFTN’s Canadian You Tube Channel HERE ***

*** For some fantastic pictures of the game, check out Bob Frid’s gallery HERE ***

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Authored by: Michael McColl

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