Despite loss, Vancouver & fans celebrate maiden MLS year

VANCOUVER, B.C. — In many ways, Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Colorado Rapids summed up the Vancouver Whitecaps’ season: a good performance, boisterous support and just enough errors to deny them a point.

But despite all that, the lasting image of Saturday will be the expression of connection between the players and the fans following the final whistle.

WATCH HIGHLIGHTS: Vancouver 1, Colorado 2

Striker Eric Hassli, whose name was chanted as he watched on the sidelines for the majority of the match, stayed over an hour following the final whistle to sign autographs. The players reciprocated, taking a postgame lap to high-five supporters and gave their jerseys to 28 fans randomly selected from the crowd.

“Our fans are fantastic, and that was part of what kept us together [this season],” interim head coach Tom Soehn told MLSsoccer.com following the match. “The work ethic was there until the end and everyone kept going. Next year will be a new year and we’re going to look to rebuild things and build off what we have in terms of our fanbase and make sure we’re successful on the field.”

As for the match, Soehn recognized a pattern familiar from other matches: early promise, a bit of misfortune and another loss.

“I felt we had some opportunities to get on top of them, and that’s something we’ve done in the last couple of home games, is get on top of teams early,” Soehn said. “This time we didn’t put them away and kept them around. They’re a team that just won a championship. They have experience and they punished us.”

Not to say the Whitecaps didn’t get a slice of their own fortune, as Alain Rochat’s free kick, intended for a teammate, went straight in past Rapids’ goalkeeper Matt Pickens to give Vancouver four minutes after halftime.

“It’s not lucky—I tried to bring the ball in front of the goal,” Rochat said. “The fact is you try to put the ball on the frame, and if nobody touches it goes direct and puts the ‘keeper in trouble and today it’s happened, so it’s good.”

But the footballing gods didn’t take long to balance the luck, as Jeff Larentowicz’s equalizing goal took a deflection before going right between Joe Cannon’s legs, before substitute Wells Thompson scored a looping shot from the top of the box in the 84th minute to secure Colorado the win.

“This game was the image of our season,” Rochat said. “Sometimes more mistakes, sometimes unlucky because you just touch the ball and it goes in your net, so we missed certainly some luck this year, but the small details didn’t make us stronger, and that’s why we are where we are.”

Still, the squad enters the off-season now optimistic for the long term. Next year, the club will play all their home games at BC Place, and new coach Martin Rennie will take over. He has already organized a 10-day training camp for next month.

“We’ll be back and people are going to be proud,” Cannon said. “I know Martin – I’ve read up a lot about what he brings. Whether I’m here or not, I know the next page for this organization will be great.

“I predict that one day there’ll be a championship here again – hopefully sooner than later, but be patient,” Cannon continued. “You’ve got the right people at the top that want to do some great things, and you’ve got the right people in place. Normally that on the field stuff comes a little later, and it will here.”

Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.