On a rainy Saturday afternoon, the stage was set for a 40th anniversary celebration which Vancouver would not be denied.
Following a pre-game ceremony to honour the 1974 Vancouver Whitecaps team and the inudction of team president Bob Lenarduzzi into the Whitecaps Ring of Honour, the lads in blue jumped all over the visiting San Jose Earthquakes and were looking to really step on the throats of their Western Conference rivals within the first 45 minutes. Within 20 minutes of the first half, the ‘Caps leaped out to a 3-0 lead and the sellout crowd of 21,000 at BC Place were loving every minute of it. Though the Earthquakes made a game of it, pulling to within one goal in stoppage time, the damage had already been done and the ‘Caps walked away with a 3-2 victory, their first win in four matches.
“For 30 minutes we were absolutely sensational,” said Whitecaps manager Carl Robinson during his post-game address. “I challenged them at the start of the game because it was a fantastic occasion today for the club and I didn’t want us to start slow when we have done in the few recent games.
In the past two matches, the Whitecaps were forced to come from behind to gain a result due to slow starts, particularly in Salt Lake last week where they were being dominated in the first half and went into the break down 2-0.
There was no need to mount a comeback against the ‘Quakes as teenage sensation Kekuta Manneh put Vancouver in the lead with his goal just 10 minutes in. While cutting inside onto his right foot, Manneh’s shot across goal bounced back off the woodwork to which he calmly side-footed in the rebound.
Just nine minutes later, designated player Pedro Morales converted on a penalty kick, which was awarded after striker Darren Mattocks had been brought down inside the box. Just seconds later, Morales had struck again after letting go a rocket just outside the 18-yard box. Twenty minutes in the ‘Caps were leading 3-0 and were dictating the flow of play. Mattocks was getting in-behind San Jose’s back four, Morales was stretching stretching the field with his passing, Manneh was taking defenders on one-on-one and the young Uruguyan, Sebastian Fernandez, was dancing in the midfield.
All was well until Mattocks pulled up with a hamstring injury and needed to be subbed off in the 30th minute. Robinson later said that it looks to be a fairly worrying injury but Mattocks will be reassessed in the coming days.
A San Jose penalty kick to end the half put the ‘Quakes on the board as star striker Chris Wondolowski calmly struck the ball into the empty half of the net.
The second half was all about Erik Hurtado, who came on as a substitue for Mattocks in the first half. Soon after arriving into the match, the young 23-year-old speedster had a sure goal taken away from him when his shot was cleared off the line by Earthquake defender Sam Cronin.
Hurtado was full of confidence in the second half where he would frequently pick up the ball near the centre circle and run at defenders beating them one-on-one. He had many great chances to score but could not buy a goal. He chose to focus on the work-rate of his teammates instead of his own brilliant play.
“The whole team is really tired and we deserved that win,” said Hurtado. “We had players cramping afterward because they were working so hard and you got to respect that as a teammate.”
San Jose made it interesting scoring a goal in the 91st minute, again by Wondolowski, but it was too late. The youthful Whitecaps had successfully collected three points and their reliance on the youngsters may just be a sign of things to come as veteran striker Kenny Miller has terminated his contract with the club in a mutual agreement.
The announcement came on Sunday, a day after the big win where Miller came on as a substitute in the first half. The Scottish striker’s contract was set to expire at the end of June and there have been rumours that Miller had rejected an extension from the Whitecaps. In a conference call on Sunday, Miller explained that there had never been an offer on the table, though there had been plenty of discussions between himself and manager Carl Robinson.
At 34 years old, the writing may have already been on the wall for Miller and this announcement may have just sped up the process.
“The club wanted to go in a direction,” Miller stated. “I wanted to go in a different direction, so I think it’s worked out for everybody.”
Since taking over as manager in December, Robinson has been committed to giving younger players a greater opportunity to play.
“I’m giving youth a chance,” said Robinson. “I’ve said from day one that I will give them a chance and I think you see the young players on the pitch today (Saturday) running through brick walls for me. That’s credit to them and it’s credit to the direction we’re trying to take this football club.”
With Miller now gone the Whitecaps have a designated-player roster spot open and Robinson indicated that if a striker is to be brought in to replace Miller, he will be looking for someone with experience in his mid-twenties.
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