VANCOUVER, B.C. - Vancouver Whitecaps were made to work hard against a FC Edmonton side that came out of the traps flying in the first leg of their Amway Canadian Championship semifinal at BC Place on Wednesday evening, before eventually coming away with a 1-1 draw against the NASL side.
Taking nothing for granted against lower league opposition, 'Caps coach Carl Robinson fielded a fairly strong side. Nine of his starting eleven have seen minutes in MLS this season, with only goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi and central defender Christian Dean making their first appearances of the year.
On paper it should have been more than enough to see Vancouver come through comfortably. In reality, the team struggled to cope with an Edmonton side who took the lead just four minutes in before the Whitecaps fought back with a late Gershon Koffie equalizer to keep themselves in the cup tie.
“I’m delighted we got the goal in the end,” Robinson told media after the match. “The game panned out exactly as I thought it would. Unfortunately I didn’t think of giving them a goal after two or three minutes.
“The way they played was exactly as I thought, they slowed the game down. The ball wasn’t in play enough.”
Heading in to the game, team chemistry had been one of the hot topics for the Whitecaps. Just how quickly would it take for a side that hadn’t played together to settle and gel?
With the players training day in and day out together, Robinson hadn’t seen it as much of an issue but after watching his side look like strangers for much of the first half, he admitted it did give him some food for thought.
“Maybe they haven’t played enough minutes together in games,” Robinson mused. “I said that they’ve trained together. As the game grew they got stronger and more confident with each other. We played some decent stuff at times and that’s the encouragement I’m going to take away.”
With competition for places in Vancouver intense right now, there was as much at stake for some players individually as there was for the team in the match. Robinson felt that some rose to the challenge but for others, nerves perhaps played a part in some of the initially slow performances.
“There shouldn’t be [nerves] but with some I think it was,” Robinson added. “They’ve got to get used to it, playing in front of our fans. We play in front of 20-odd thousand every week and against Portland and when we go on the road against Seattle. We’re in the big boy world now.”
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Edmonton now head into the second leg of the tie with a crucial away goal and Vancouver need to score at least once next Wednesday to advance to the Final in August against Montreal.
It's not the scenario Robinson planned for, but it's one which he feels his squad should be more than capable of getting themselves through.
"Even if we’d won or lost this game, the tie’s not over,” Robinson said. “We’ve got a difficult game next Wednesday but a game we’ll be ready for.”