VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Whitecaps found a late equalizer on Wednesday night to claim a 1-1 draw against the visiting FC Edmonton at BC Place in the first leg of their Amway Canadian Championship semifinal.
Edmonton’s Tomi Ameobi found the back of the goal just four minutes in, as Whitecaps midfielder Gershon Koffie was dispossessed right in front of his 18-yard box. Edmonton captain Ritchie Jones was key on the play to force the giveaway, before Ameobi coolly hit a low strike past a helpless Paolo Tornaghi in the Vancouver net.
Koffie made up for his early sin in the 87th minute, as a ball into the box bounced off teammate Erik Hurtado, before he took a touch and then beat goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel from close range.
“I think we came out to win this game, but sometimes it doesn’t go your way,” Koffie said after the match. “These kinds of mistakes happen here and there in the game. You have to take the focus back to the game, and we did – we fought back.”
From then, it was a combination of missed opportunities and heroics from Van Oekel that brought about the final result.
“He was poor on Sunday,” Edmonton coach Colin Miller said of his goalkeeper. “I gave him the belt on Monday when we arrived in Vancouver, because he was disappointing by his standards. But tonight he’s answered the bell, and that’s why we brought him to the club, was to put in performances like that.
“He made two very good saves to keep us in the tie in all honesty.”
Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson opted to play a second-string side against the visitors from the lower-tier North American Soccer League, and it showed with a lack of finish in front of target.
“[Nerves] shouldn’t be [an issue], but I think with some it was,” Robinson said of his young lineup. “But you have to get used to it. Playing in front of our fans, we play in front of 20,000 every week, we go to Portland, we go on the road to Seattle – we’re in the big boy world now.”
After a tame start for the Whitecaps, Deybi Flores had the first real chance for the home side, coming close with a strike in the 24th minute that zipped across Van Oekel’s goal before missing wide left, after a nice give-and-go with Darren Mattocks down the right flank.
Another half chance came the Whitecaps way in the 38th minute, as Kianz Froese latched onto a weak headed clearance. His one-time effort lacked any venom in the end though, and went wide to the left of target.
Flores slid past two defenders in the 40th minute to generate a free kick right at the top of the area, but Nicolas Mezquida squandered the opportunity with a ball blasted into the wall. Mattocks had a guilt-edged opportunity just before halftime, finding himself with a free shot on goal after Ethen Sampson hit a pinpoint cross into the six yard box from the right side.
Van Oekel made a wonderful save in the 49th minute, stopping Hurtado in the area with a diving reflex save after the Whitecaps forward turned his marker with ease from close range.
Edmonton’s goalkeeper played hero again in the 58th minute, making a similar save on Mattocks, who got off a strong shot from just inside the area after beating his marker with ease.
“I did my job tonight,” acknowledged Van Oekel in the locker room following the match. “It puts me back on the front foot [after a poor individual performance in NASL last weekend] and it puts me back in the good graces with the manager.”
Hurtado fired wide right on a full on breakaway in the 66th minute after Mattocks sent him through alone with a headed pass. The forward opted to take his shot one-time when he perhaps had a chance to take a touch and settle himself.
Left fullback Sam Adekugbe was forced to withdraw in the 17th minute due to injury, with Jordan Harvey coming in to replace him. Similarly, Flores was also subbed off with an injury in the 74th minute.
The Whitecaps had a late chance to win it in injury time, when centre back Tim Parker sent substitute Robert Earnshaw in alone on goal from a tight angle, but the veteran blasted the ball into the side netting, meaning the sides ended up with a draw.
These sides meet in the second match of this two-leg tie on May 20 at Edmonton’s Clarke Field. Both will have league matches in the interim, with the Whitecaps hosting the Seattle Sounders at BC Place in MLS play, and the Eddies hosting the San Antonio Scorpions on Sunday in the NASL.