Their Finest Hour: Vancouver Whitecaps 1979 Soccer Bowl winning season (Part 13 – The Playoffs continue with the Aztecs)

Their Finest Hour: Vancouver Whitecaps 1979 Soccer Bowl winning season (Part 13 – The Playoffs continue with the Aztecs)

Throughout the season we’ve been recapping Vancouver Whitecaps’ 1979 Soccer Bowl winning season with the help of matchday programs, photographs, and more, bringing you all the highs, all the lows, and the all the wonder of their famous final victory, with a splattering of 1979 nostalgia and some interviews thrown in as well.

The Whitecaps were on a roll with four straight wins as they got set for the National Conference semi-finals, and had suffered just one defeat in their last nine matches. That defeat was to the Aztecs in Los Angeles on August 4th, now, 18 days later, the Whitecaps were back in LA to face Rinus Michels’ men in the playoffs and a close encounter was both expected and delivered.

The Aztecs had finished in second place in the National Conference Western Division, 10 points behind the Whitecaps with a record of 18 wins and 12 losses from their 30 regular season matches. They’d scored eight more goals than the ‘Caps (62 to 54), but conceded 13 more (47 to 34).

Michels is regarded as one of the greatest football managers of all time and was named cosach of the century by FIFA in 1999. The Dutchman won four Eredivisie with Ajax in the 60’s, including a threepeat, and won the European Cup with them in the 1970/71 season. He also won La Liga with Barcelona in 1973/74, took Holland to the 1974 World Cup final, and won the 1988 Euros. And that’s just a fraction of his success.

His name is synonymous with creating the “total football” style of play and his Aztecs squad was packed with talent, including five of his countrymen, one of which was the Dutch master himself Johan Cruyff.

The league win against the ‘Caps earlier in the month had set the Aztecs on a five game winning streak, outscoring their opponents 19 to 6 in the process. Their first round playoff match up was with the Washington Diplomats, which they won 3-1 in LA and 4-3 on the road.

Vancouver had lost three straight to LA, but both teams were in confident mood heading into the first game of the Conference semi-final series at the Pasadena Rose Bowl, and 21,213 fans headed along to take in the action.

And what a game it was.

The ‘Caps took the action to the Aztecs and Carl Valentine fired them into the lead when he finished off a Bob Bolitho pass along the six yard box in the first half. Valentine added a second midway through the second, cutting inside to rifle home a beauty into the postage stamp corner.

The Whitecaps were in dreamland and looked set to head back to Vancouver with the win, but things soon turned into a nightmare.

Hubert Smeets got on the end of a cross to the back post and headed LA back into the match in the 71st minute. The home side pushed for the leveller but the ‘Caps looked to have weathered the storm, that was until Bob Sibbald was left unmarked in the box and fired home a last minute equaliser to send the match into sudden death overtime.

With no further goals, the game headed to a five round shootout. Mastermind Michels had one last trick up his sleeve, switching out goalkeepers. And it paid off as American Dave Morrison, who was making his first ever NASL appearance, kept the ‘Caps at bay in four of their five shots and the Aztecs won the shootout 2-1 and thus the match, 3-2.

You can see highlights from the match below.

The pressure was now on the ‘Caps. The Aztecs felt like their bogey side this season and with no away goals rule or aggregate score in effect they had to get the win in the return game at Empire three days later on August 25th to force the deciding mini game.

Empire was sold out and 32,375 fans packed in to watch a tense affair.

LA came and played the way many did at Empire, defensively, cagey, and forcing Vancouver to launch attack after attack while trying to wear them down. Goalless at the half, the pressure increased on the Whitecaps but it was eventually eased in the unlikeliest of fashions.

Kevin Hector’s goalbound shot was cleared off the line by LA’s Mexican defender Sanchez Galindo, but his clearance hit off his own player and back into the net for what was to prove to be the only goal of the game.

The ‘Caps then chose to control the ball, run out the clock, and preserve energy for the upcoming mini game and the Aztecs weren’t in the mood to expend energy either chasing an equaliser. There’s your flaw in that format!

There was a ten minute break between the main match and the mini game and Empire, by all accounts, was loud as the ‘Caps supporters built up a crescendo of noise and themselves into a frenzy.

And it only took three minutes for that to increase.

Trevor Whymark played the ball out to Carl Valentine and the winger whipped in a cross for Kevin Hector who met it with a diving header and the ‘Caps were 1-0 up.

After that the ‘Caps dominated possession and hardly gave a deflated Aztecs team a sniff of the ball, reducing them to just two shots for the remaining 27 minutes.

The Whitecaps advanced to their first ever Conference final, and awaiting them were the legendary New York Cosmos, who had seen off the Tulsa Roughnecks in the other semi-final.

With 4-1 and 4-2 victories already over the Cosmos during the regular season, it was a game that held no fear for the ‘Caps. What is produced though was one of the all-time classic series in NASL history, but that’s for next time.

You can catch up with all of our “Season To Remember” articles from the Whitecaps 1979 NASL Soccer Bowl winning season HERE.

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Authored by: Michael McColl

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