Whitecaps FC – on the rise in MLS

by Ashley Perry

Nine matches into the MLS season, the Vancouver Whitecaps have managed 17 points from a possible 27; quite impressive considering the club’s last place finish in their inaugural campaign.

Saturday’s 2-1 victory over the league-leading San Jose Earthquakes – only a month after losing 3-1 in California – meant a lot to the team, and one man in particular: Eric Hassli.

The  mercurial Frenchman, Hassli, scored one of the best goals in world football last season but had, until Saturday night, been subject to less than favourable reviews. His goal-less stretch had reached 17 games and, after scoring in Edmonton in a Canadian Cup match last week, many felt that his fortunes were about to change. They did, quite spectacularly.

Brought on late in the second half, Hassli brought his characteristic physicality to the game but spurned a late one-on-one with Earthquakes ‘keeper Jon Busch. He had his head in his hands. The game-winning moment was gone, it seemed.

As the four minutes of stoppage time elapsed, Davide Chiumiento threaded a through-ball to Hassli. With only Busch to beat, Hassli pushed it goal-wards and the ‘keeper could only tip it towards the post. The ball nestled inside the net and Hassli dropped to his knees in front of the Whitecaps’ biggest supporters club, the Southsiders. It was one of those rather big moments.

BC Place erupted. Vancouver went from narrow victories, and a few disappointing results against the top clubs to this: a come-from-behind win that can provide the club with a significant platform in the coming weeks and months.

Key players so far this season

The addition of former South Korea World Cup star Young-Pyo Lee cannot emphasized strongly enough – he’s the consummate professional, and arguably the best full back in the MLS.

Many questioned whether Lee would suit the physicality of Major League Soccer, but his guile and positioning has been first-class. The former Spurs, and PSV man has truly hit the ground running at the Whitecaps; helped Martin Rennie’s to six clean sheets in their first nine matches, and contributing a great (read: fortuitous) goal from a free-kick.

Eighteen year-old Omar Salgado, last season’s number one draft pick in the MLS Super Draft, has been a revelation on the left-wing. Martin Rennie has shifted him to the left-hand side of a forward three this season, because of his speed and ability to beat full-backs, which has been a revelation for the player who had previously been utilized as a striker.

Having conceded just 7 goals after nine matches, Vancouver’s stingy defensive performances bode well for the rest of the season. Perhaps more importantly, at long last, the Whitecaps attack is showing signs of gelling as a cohesive unit.

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