Whitecaps off to great start at TFC's expense

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:18 PM ET

VANCOUVER — As the first half wound down at Empire Field Saturday afternoon, Vancouver Whitecaps fans decided to kick their support for the home team into high gear.

“We’re going to make the playoffs” they chanted repeatedly.

A two-pronged cheer, for sure — on one side expressing their optimism for Vancouver’s MLS expansion franchise. On the other, rubbing the visitors’ noses in it, the visitors being a bewildered and confused Toronto FC.

TFC, of course, has never made the playoffs in its previous four seasons in the MLS, and after Saturday’s 4-2 loss, it appears that it’s going to be hard-pressed to accomplish that feat again this season, though, of course, it’s still early.

Saturday’s opening match between the two teams marked an historic first for the MLS and for Vancouver soccer — the first time two Canadian teams faced each other in the MLS and, of course, the very first game for Vancouver at the MLS level.

In the end, it was the Vancouver side which rose to the occasion, playing attacking and confident soccer in front of 23,000 delighted supporters. The Reds, on the other hand, looked disorganized, particularly on defence, time and again allowing the Whitecaps forwards excellent chances in front of goalkeeper Stefan Frei who, despite allowing four goals, was forced to make a number of big saves in the game.

It will be Eric Hassli who will forever go down in Whitecaps history by becoming the first man ever to score for the franchise at the MLS level.

Hassli scored at the 15th minute from a cross from Atiba Harris, beating Frei for a 1-0 lead. Hassli was shockingly all alone in the TFC penalty area. Toronto’s defence fall apart on the play, partly as a result of defender Nana Attakora falling as Harris delivered his cross.

The Reds took control in the first 10 minutes, but Vancouver managed to wrestle control back and took the play back from the visitors, ending with the Hassli goal. But five minutes later, Reds’ captain Dwayne De Rosario tied it on a beautiful pass from Maicon Santos, who chipped it up to the team’s all-time leading scorer from the midfield as he broke in on Whitecaps keeper Jay Nolly. De Rosario, as is his habit, made no mistake, firing it over Nolly’s out-stretched glove.

Toronto’s defenders fell apart yet again in the 26th minute. Whitecaps midfielder Terry Dunfield managed to get in behind the defending wall of Red and beat Frei with a low shot that found the corner for a 2-1 lead.

Vancouver forward Atiba Harris hammered the nail into the coffin in the 63rd minute when he beat Frei off a corner.

Hassli added his second of the game in the 72nd minute on a two on none before Santos brought Toronto to within two with a hard strike two minutes later. But it was far too little too late.

The Vancouver ownership has been preaching patience with the fans, vowing to build the team the proper way for the long run, though the Caps certainly look like a team that can compete now.

TFC is under pressure to perform this season — having failed to qualify for the playoffs in each of its first four seasons in MLS.

The Reds are rebuilding under new head coach Aron Winter and with massive changes in the lineup, but patience is wearing thin with the club’s loyal fan base and, rebuild or not, more is expected from this team than the 9-13-8 record the side posted in 2010 to finish 11th in the 16-team MLS.

Saturday’s result will certainly be a bitter pill to swallow for the Toronto supporters.

The atmosphere inside Empire Field was incredibly festive, made even more so by the final result. From the beginning, the Vancouver fans taunted the Reds, beginning, laughingly, with “The Leafs suck!” and ending with that “Hey Hey Goodbye” chant made famous by the Montreal Canadiens faithful.

They certainly had reason to be enthusiastic.


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