Daniel Haber’s match-winning goal last weekend against OKC Energy sparked jubilant scenes at Thunderbird Stadium.
The 24-year-old was mobbed on the touchline after showing great composure to put away his 89th minute chance. It was one of those moments that will long live in the memory of everyone present. One of those season-defining goals you watch back a bunch in the days since.
“Oh yeah,” a smiling Haber told AFTN at WFC2 training this week. “I’ve definitely watched it a few times. I didn’t realise that I had done the fake shot initially with my second touch, That’s something I work on pretty often, so I was happy with that. The first touch was a lot worse than I initially thought! But all that matters is that it went into the net.”
And it got there between the legs of two OKC defenders, something else Haber wasn’t even aware of until he watched it back.
“Honestly, I had shifted it to the side to try and go through the first guys legs,” Haber revealed. “But I didn’t even know the second guy was there.”
Here it is again, in wonderful slow-mo. It is something you don’t get tired of watching.
This is how you get to the @USL Western Conference Final
— Whitecaps FC 2 (@wfc2) October 8, 2016
For Haber, the goal brought out a gamut of emotions from joy to relief. The importance of it from a team perspective wasn’t lost on the 24-year-old Canadian, but it meant a lot to him on a personal level.
It was his first goal since popping one away against Seattle Sounders on August 6th. It’s certainly not been for the lack of effort, but you could tell it was something that was bothering him, a fact which Kyle Greig quipped had seen him with a bit of “chip on his shoulder”. Although it’s more been putting pressure on himself to get that monkey off his back.
“Yeah, a little bit,” Haber admitted. “I think as a player who scores goals in general, if you go a few weeks or a month, I don’t know what it was eight, nine games without a goal, it starts to eat away at you a little bit. You stay, you do a little bit extra finishing in practice.
“It definitely crept into my mind, but in the moment it was more about just the team and how happy I was that we felt like we were going to go through to the next round. As a goalscorer, it always feels good to score a goal in that moment. It doesn’t get much better.”
That’s the thing with this WFC2 squad, as we touched upon in our chat with Tommy Gardner yesterday. Everyone holds themselves to the highest standards and expectations, with a lot of harsh self-critiquing going on.
It’s refreshing when you’ve spent a season writing about the MLS side, where we’re led to believe that performances have been good, when they clearly haven’t been.
Like Gardner, Haber is his own toughest critic.
He’s had a good season. The only ever-present on the squad, Haber has eight goals, and a team-leading four assists, on the year. So has this season been everything he’d hoped it would be?
“Yeah, I mean it’s tough,” Haber told us. “I like to think of myself as an attacking player. So I’m definitely disappointed not to have put maybe more goals in the net, and I feel that there were some chances that I left on the table.
“But at the same time, I’m happy with how I’ve been able to help our team. Alan’s asked me to play a specific role this year and I try to do it the best I can. I feel like I’ve contributed offensively. Maybe not as much as I would have liked or hoped, but I’m proud of the way that I’ve worked for the team.”
This is Haber’s fourth year in the pro game, but with no playoff system in place in the Cypriot or Israeli leagues, where Haber spent three years plying his trade prior to moving to Vancouver, outside of a brief run at college with Cornell University, this is his first experience of North American soccer playoffs.
“The regular season doesn’t [have playoffs there],” Haber said of his time in Cyprus and Israel. “In Cyprus we went to the Cup semis and I scored a big goal in the quarter-finals, in the first leg, but other than that, just in college.
“My team went to the NCAA tournament one year. We got knocked out first round, so I know how devastating that was, especially considering how short the season is and how much of a build-up there is all year to get to that college season. Losing in that first round was devastating.”
And it’s a feeling that drives Haber, and others, in this postseason run with WFC2.
Football moves fast. Last week’s heroics are in the history books and all the focus now is fully on Saturday’s USL Western Conference final at Swope Park Rangers.
The ‘Caps head into the match in confident mood, but far from complacent as to the challenge that awaits them in Kansas City. WFC2 may have already beaten Swope Park twice during the regular season, but at this stage of the proceedings other results go very much out the window and anything goes.
“Oh yeah, absolutely,” Haber said. “I don’t know of any score in our conference in the playoffs that’s been more than a one goal game. It seems that they’re all finishes right at the end or extra time or shootouts.
“The games we’ve played with them were close and it’s a tough team at their park. I think they’re going to feel good, but we feel really good right now, and we’re ready for a battle.”
WFC2 are expected to head into the final with a fully strength squad. They’ll go up against a Swope Park side missing both of their starting full backs, with Ever Alvarado and Tommy Meyer both suspended after receiving straight red cards in last week’s semi-final win over OC Blues.
Facing a weakened side can definitely go very much one of two ways for the young ‘Caps. It could be a help, allowing their fast wingers to successfully attack, or it could be a journey into the unknown, facing some back-up guys with a lot to prove and a chance to make a name for themselves.
“I think it’s the unknown,” Haber mused. “I feel like a lot of times this year we’ve gone into a game expecting one or two guys to start and then they’re not there, or a MLS team will send down guys last minute, so I try not to pay too much attention to who we’re going against.
“One thing we’ve seen this year though is it doesn’t really matter who we’re playing against. Sometimes MLS guys come down and they are motivated or they’re not motivated, and put in good performances or they’re the weakest guy on the park. It doesn’t really matter.
“Sometimes the back-up guy can be better. He’s pushing for a spot, he’s pushing for a new contract. You never know. I feel like it’s going to be a good test.”
It’s going to be the biggest match in the careers of pretty much all of the Whitecaps squad, but they’re only one win away from an even bigger one – the USL Championship game.
Obviously it’s a one game at a time approach, but it must be hard not to look at what lies on horizon. One win away from Championship game, two from title.
“Yeah, but at the same time, look at how hard it was just to get to this point,” Haber feels. “Two wins that we really had to squeak out by one goal. Close games. Chances on both sides. I don’t think we’re looking ahead. I think we’re just looking to this weekend.
“It’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be tough. As tough as any game we’re going to play all season. We know if we want to win we’ve got to get good performances out of everyone.”