Saturday 5th May 2012
Major League Soccer
BC Place, Vancouver
Match rating: 4
Today would be the footballing highlight of my visit to Vancouver, to take in a game between two of the early pacesetters in Major League Soccer, at a recently refurbished stadium.
The BC Place stadium is located just five minutes walk from the city centre and certainly looks extremely attractive as one approaches either as it looms as one walks from the city centre, or viewing it from the other side of the False Creek. Once inside, although the purists may frown upon the artificial pitch and with the roof closed is an indoor stadium, it is certainly a mightily impressive arena for football. Since serving as the Olympic stadium in the 2010 Winter Olympics, BC Place has been renovated with a new roof fitted, apparently making it the world's largest cable supported retractable roof stadium, reopened last September. Concourses are spacious, seats are comfortable with plenty of legroom, excellent views from wherever one sits and large four sided video boards above the centre circle - apparently the second largest in any North American sports stadium. With the fans close to the pitch, the roof closed and the stadium sensibly not making use of the upper tier of seating, which is covered with sheeting from the bottom of the upper tier towards the centre of the pitch, giving the stadium more of an intimate and more full up feel than the sight of many empty seats or a completely empty upper tier, and certainly facilitates yet further the making of a good atmosphere. Programmes were given away free of charge both outside and inside the stadium, consisting of 30 pages and contained most things one would want from a programme - reports, previews and previous results and line-ups.
Their first season in Major League Soccer was something of a struggle for the Whitecaps last year, as they finished bottom of both the Western Conference and had the worst record in the entire Major League Soccer. This season is looking much more promising though, as they went into this game sitting in third place in the Western Conference, with four wins and two draws from their opening eight league games. Their results so far this season have been remarkably symmetrical, opening their season with two wins, followed by two draws, followed by two losses, followed most recently by another two victories. Familiar names to an English observer in the starting line-up for the Whitecaps were Jay DeMerit, formerly of Watford and USA international player, and Lee Young Pyo, the former Tottenham Hotspur player and former South Korean international. The San Jose Earthquakes had only a marginally better season in 2011, finishing in seventh place in the nine team Western Division and with the 14 best record of all 18 teams in Major League Soccer. Like the Whitecaps, the Earthquakes have also been having a much better time of it this season, leading the Western Conference, having lost lost just once and won six of their eight games so far. They certainly came into this game in great form, winning their last three games and dropping just two points from their last seven games. The only recognisable name in the Earthquakes set-up to me was their coach, Frank Yallop, the former Ipswich Town player. Thanks to the rather bizarre scheduling in Major League Soccer which sees teams play certain other teams only once in the season whilst playing other teams two or three times, today's two teams have already met this season in California, with the Earthquakes winning 3-1, with a further league encounter to come in July.
After a farily quiet opening to the match, it was the visitors who took the lead on 15 minutes, when Marvin Chavez worked space for himselfy before firing over a perfect curling cross to the back post, and Chris Wondolowski was there to head home from 6 yards. The home team responded well, carving out some half chances before they did equalise on 40 minutes, when Omar Salgado swung in a free kick and Gershon Koffie headed home from six yards.
So the scores were level at half time, but in the second half, it was very much the Whitecaps in the ascendancy, as the Earthquakes looked increasingly tired and seemed to be content to go home with a point, although they did look capable of snatching a goal on their rare forays forward. It was looking like both sides would indeed have to settle for a point, although the home side had a wonderful chance in injury time to snatch a winner, when their French forward Eric Hassli burst forward but he blasted wastefully into the side netting as defenders closed down on him. However, amazingly, there was still time for Hassli to redeem himself, when a fabulous pass from Davide Chumiento found Hassli in acres of space just inside the box after timing his run to perfection, and he spun around and unleashed a shot which the Earthquakes keeper got quite a firm hand to but still the ball hit the back of the net via the post with just three second of injury time to spare. The stadium erupted and there was barely time to restart before the referee blew the final whistle. An amazing end to a very entertaining game of football, and a well deserved three points for the Whitecaps.