TORONTO - Teitur Thordarsonís contentment with a one-goal advantage ahead of the return leg of the Voyageurs Cup final might cost the Whitecaps the Canadian title and a place in the Champions League.
Vancouverís manager appeared to be satisfied with a 1-0 result after electing to bring off goal-scorer Eric Hassli and turning down an opportunity to push for more goals 15 minutes from time.
A Maicon Santos equalizer magnified the situation in the 73rd minute, but Thordarson still swapped Vancouverís designated player in favour of an inexperienced Omar Salgado.
Thordarson strangely changed Camilo, Vancouverís second leading scorer, four minutes after removing Hassli in the 1-1 draw, which all but took the life out of a side that put TFC under pressure for the better part of 70 minutes Wednesday night.
And itís not the first time Thordarsonís personnel decisions have been questioned. The first-year MLS manager rested half his first team last weekend in a loss at New England, and was seemingly ready to field a strong side for 90 minutes against Toronto.
After rattling the crossbar and coming within inches of increasing the lead, Thordarson replaced his most productive players when the Whitecaps could have put the competition out of reach.
What should have been a comfortable two or three-goal win turned into a massive advantage for the Reds after salvaging not only a draw, but a crucial away goal.
The Whitecaps were the better team for 89 minutes and were helped further by first-half injuries to two of TFCís crucial pieces. Injuries to Jacob Peterson and Tony Tchani forced Aron Winter to bring on vastly inexperienced players that Thordarson should have taken full advantage of for the remainder of the match.
Instead, more questionable decisions from a manager who hasnít defeated an MLS club since opening day sucked the energy out of his team by refusing to push for more goals in an attempt to render the return leg meaningless.
ďItís unbelievable that we didnít score more goals,Ē Thordarson said.
Or is it because he curiously pulled his sideís top scorers midway through the second-half?
Although Vancouver were the dominant side for long stretches, Santos took a half-chance and secured an important away goal that rendered Vancouverís performance irrelevant ahead of next week.
Injuries adding up
Wednesdayís second-half exposed why Winter is reluctant to sub TFCís three central players.
First-half injuries to Peterson and Tchani forced Winter to issue rookie Matt Gold and Oscar Cordon extensive minutes.
With Mikael Yourassowsky out through injury and Nathan Sturgis nowhere on the clubís depth chart, Gold and Cordon struggled to stay up with the game.
Looking at Vancouverís goal, Cordon and Gold were caught forward and were too slow tracking back even though they should have been fresh.
Keeping in mind Julian de Guzman will be out due to a yellow card accumulation Sunday, the massive drop in midfield play is a concern heading into Colorado where the Reds might be without three key central players.
Around the pitch
The firmness and unforgiving nature of Empire Field is an issue MLS clubs want addressed. While the ĎCaps attempted to fix the turf with extra rubber pellets, the surface looked reminiscent of the inadequate turf that once graced BMO Field ó a surface that led to nagging aches and pains like the injuries sustained by Peterson and Tchani Ö The lack of depth and injuries in the midfield is concerning ahead of the Gold Cup as de Guzman will miss an extended period of time on national team duty Ö Can someone explain to me how Vancouver didnít earn a penalty early in the second-half on that brutally late tackle? Ö And good on the close to 16,000 supporters who showed despite the Canucks looking to win a conference title.
TFC or Vancouver will meet the Nicaraguan champion in a two-leg series to see who will advance to the group stage. An easy draw sees the winner into group C ó the weakest of the four groups.
While the eventual Canadian winner was lucky to steer clear of a more experienced Salvadoran or Honduran side, traveling to Nicaragua wonít be easy.
The Canadian champion will face either Real Esteli or Deportivo Walter Ferretti in tropical weather at a venue that has failed FIFA field inspections in the past. Last yearís tournament saw the Nicaraguan representative left out due to venue standards.
Real Esteli has previous experience in the preliminary round having lost out to the Montreal Impact in the 2008 edition.
TFCís brutal stretch continues as they play at altitude Sunday night in Colorado before returning to Toronto for the second-leg of the Voyageurs Cup on short rest.
The Whitecaps will look at their week off as an advantage heading into the final which makes Thordarsonís personnel decision that much more peculiar.
The big difference in the first-leg was Hassliís ability to hold up play and involve different players in the attack. While Torontoís Santos looked to do the same for the Reds, the difference between Vancouverís designated player and TFCís target man was vast.
The potential return of Alan Gordon would likely see Santos move back to the bench and would help restart an out-of-rhythm attack next week.
Coach Winter may deny that the Reds salvaged a result at Empire, but the Dutchman knows if TFC play close to the same in the return, Vancouver will lift the cup next week.