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Drilling down on: at Vancouver 2, San Jose 1

Vancouver Whitecaps Hassli is surrounded by teammates after scoring winning goal against San Jose Earthquakes during MLS soccer game in Vancouver

Vancouver Whitecaps Eric Hassli (centre) is surrounded by teammates after scoring the winning goal against the San Jose Earthquakes during their MLS soccer game in Vancouver, British Columbia, May 5, 2012. REUTERS/Ben Nelms (CANADA - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)


Man of the Match: Gershon Koffie slow ascension to one of the more effective central midfielders in the league took another step tonight, getting on the end of the first goal. We’ll talk more about the goal a little more in a minute, but from a cast of Whitecaps characters who almost all managed to put a good foot forward, Koffie stood out just that little big more.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Talk about a big win for Vancouver. San Jose, coming off putting a five-spot on D.C. mid-week, had established their contender’s bonafides. The Whitecaps, however, were still in the mid-table purgatory, unsure whether they’d go up or down. In the 94th minute, they got their answer.
  • For multiple reasons, the winner shouldn’t have happened. Ike Opara kept Eric Hassli onside, and Jon Busch probably should have got it. Still, there’s a bit of an irony that the last-match heroics happened to the Earthquakes. After all, isn’t that the type of goal we’re used to seeing come off Chris Wondolowski’s foot?
  • Of course, it wouldn’t be a San Jose game without a Wondo score, though Martín Chavez deserves a lot of credit for the opener (15'). The threat of his speed forced Matt Watson to over-play his right foot, thinking the cross was more likely to come with Chavez trying to beat the midfielder wide. Instead, Chavez cut back onto his left and put an inch perfect cross to the far post, where Wondo was able to run onto a training ground header.
  • From that point on, Vancouver controlled the first half, providing a series of exemplars of why many see a 4-4-2 formation at an inherent disadvantage when matched against a 4-2-3-1-variant. The Whitecaps played the latter and were routinely able to used the formation’s triangles to pass around and through San Jose, their control promoted in part by their numerical advantage in midfield.
  • In the 40th minute, Vancouver’s work paid off with the equalizer, but the goal was foreshadowed nine minutes earlier. Then, the Whitecaps had a restart deep on their right flank, with Lee Young-Pyo’s cross headed over by Alain Rochat. The equalizer came from a restart on the opposite flank, but with the defense drawn to Rochat’s threat, Lee’s overhit cross found Koffie behind the challenge for an easy conversion.
  • The goal right before half time made for a cagey second half, both sides left to a series of speculative shots from outside the area. When Martin Renne brought Hassli in after having put on John Thorrington and Davide Chiumiento in the wide positions, it looked as if Vancouver was going to take a draw unless Renne’s designated player did something remarkable. Little did he know San Jose would do their part to give Vancouver three.
  • The win is certainly a setback for San Jose. We see contenders drop games like this at times (thing Kansas City’s loss at Portland, Real Salt Lake’s loss to Chivas USA). How the Earthquakes response will tell us as much about their title credentials as their posting five goals on D.C. United.
  • For Vancouver, this could turn into a one of the season’s high points. Putting aside, the drama of how it came about, Saturday’s three points will look like Charlie’s golden ticket if the Earthquakes stay at the top of the West.