Late Pearce Header Deflates Whitecaps

Written by Ian Thomson
New York Red Bulls defender Heath Pearce rescued a point for his team in Vancouver with a late header (Photo: Ian Thomson)

Vancouver Whitecaps let two points slip away late Wednesday against New York Red Bulls in a clash between Major League Soccer’s two third-placed teams at B.C. Place.

Argentine defender Martin Bonjour looked to have clinched the Whitecaps’ eighth win of the season with his first goal for the Western Conference side on 75 minutes.

The hosts then relinquished the hold they’d had on much of the game by retreating into their own half and inviting New York to press forward for an equalizer. Recent Red Bulls arrival Heath Pearce matched Bonjour in breaking his scoring duck with just three minutes remaining.

Former F.C. Dallas and Chivas USA defender Pearce punished The Caps’ defensive inattentiveness to head Joel Lindpere’s inswinging cross past a helpless Joe Cannon from six yards.

Line-Ups

Sebastien Le Toux led Vancouver's forward trio in Darren Mattocks' absence with Eric Hassli left on the bench

Vancouver Head Coach Martin Rennie made one enforced change from the weekend. Rookie striker Darren Mattocks was suspended following his dismissal during Saturday’s 1-0 win over Colorado Rapids. Sebastien Le Toux moved to the front of Rennie’s three-pronged attack with Brazilian Camilo Sanvezzo coming in on the right. Designated player Eric Hassli remained on the bench.

Chicago Fire’s 3-1 thrashing of New York last Sunday ended the Red Bulls’ six-game unbeaten run. Pearce returned to the defense after an unsuccessful stint as a holding midfielder at Toyota Park. Wilman Conde was rested after returning to the line-up in Chicago following a groin injury. That meant the Red Bulls fielded their sixth different back line in six games.

New York retreated into their favored 4-1-4-1 formation employed during difficult road assignments

Assistant Coach Jan Halvor Halvorsen set the Red Bulls up in a 4-1-4-1 formation with Dax McCarty shielding the defense. Lindpere pushed into the center of midfield alongside Jan Gunnar Solli, with Connor Lade and Dane Richards occupying the flanks.

Thierry Henry stayed in New York to recover from a calf strain picked up during the league’s recent international break. Rafael Marquez remained missing with a thigh injury. The $4.6 million-a-year Mexican has played just 495 minutes this year.

Head Coach Hans Backe didn’t make the trip either due to undisclosed personal reasons.

Whitecaps’ Movement Stretches Red Bulls’ Crowded Defense

Vancouver’s flowing style of play and variety of attacking combinations continue to improve as the season progresses. Rennie’s side were unfortunate not to build a lead during an impressive opening 45 minutes.

Gershon Koffie stretched the Red Bulls’ defense in the fifth minute with a great left-to-right switch seeking out Camilo on the right wing as Lee Young-Pyo burst forward in support. The Brazilian strayed marginally offside, halting the move.

Lade’s upbringing as a full-back proved beneficial to the Red Bulls in combating Lee’s forward raids. The 22-year-old cut out another long ball toward the right wing on 11 minutes after Chiumiento and Koffie kept a sweeping move alive with some delicate touches in midfield.

Camilo made a surging diagonal run from right to left a minute later to create space for Chiumiento as Vancouver’s forward trio advanced on New York’s retreating back line. The two players swapped passes before Chiumiento fired his 25-yard shot just off target.

Another incisive, cutting run ended with Camilo putting the ball in New York goalkeeper Ryan Meara’s net on 20 minutes following Koffie’s slide rule pass into the penalty box. Another offside flag denied the Brazilian as he mistimed his run off the last defender’s shoulder.

New York’s nine-man rearguard was swept aside again on 27 minutes by Vancouver’s best move of the game. Le Toux and left-back Alain Rochat kept possession near the touchline despite being outnumbered by Brandon Barklage, Solli and Richards. Chiumiento arrived to receive the ball infield. His sharp turn left McCarty in his wake and opened space to feed Koffie near the edge of the penalty area. The Ghanaian pulled his shot wide of Meara’s right post.

Vancouver should have taken the lead five minutes later after high pressing from Camilo, Le Toux and Koffie forced Markus Holgersson to blunder inside his own defensive third. Jun Marques Davidson seized on the Swede’s misplaced clearance and found Koffie at the top of the box. This time the 20-year-old slid the ball in to Camilo on his right. The Brazilian took a touch before drilling his shot wide of Meara’s far post.

Camilo wasn’t enjoying the best of luck in front of goal. He was erroneously flagged offside on 37 minutes after Chiumiento clipped another ball over New York’s defense into the path of his teammate’s diagonal run.

New York Keep Compact And Look To Counter

The first half wasn’t just a procession toward Meara’s goal. Richards showed his threat on the counter-attack on a few occasions when the Red Bulls’ passing didn’t break down.

Referee Chris Penso angered the visitors on seven minutes when he called a foul by John Thorrington on Solli after the Norwegian’s through ball had sent Richards scampering toward the endline.

McCarty similarly released the Jamaican winger on 12 minutes after intercepting Thorrington’s pass in midfield. Richards burrowed toward goal after outpacing Rochat, but he couldn’t find Kenny Cooper with his cutback.

New York arguably created the best chance of the first half on 41 minutes when Lindpere won possession and fed Richards down the right as four Red Bulls players attacked the penalty area. Richards picked out McCarty at the back post, only for the Floridian to completely miscue his header back across the penalty box when he seemed to be aiming for goal.

Bonjour Shows Whitecaps Forwards How To Finish

Vancouver have struggled to score this season despite their wealth of attacking talent. Le Toux, Camilo, Mattocks, Hassli, Chiumiento and Omar Salgado have combined for 12 goals – one more than the Red Bulls’ Cooper.

Camilo was denied by another marginal offside decision on 49 minutes after Vancouver’s pressing forced another cheap turnover by McCarty inside the Red Bulls’ half. The 23-year-old then failed to work Meara from the edge of the box, scuffing his left-foot shot well wide from Le Toux’s cutback after Thorrington launched a 60-yard ball over New York’s defense.

The Brazilian’s disappointing finishing touches saw him replaced by Hassli on 64 minutes. The 6’4” Frenchman stepped inside Holgersson on the left of the penalty area on 69 minutes before firing his shot wide of the near post.

New York’s goal was finally breached on 75 minutes. Vancouver worked the ball back out to Chiumiento on the right wing after his initial corner had been cleared. His second cross landed at Bonjour’s feet. The defender took a touch before sweeping a clinical right-foot shot high into Meara’s top-left corner from 16 yards.

It was Vancouver’s first and only shot on target.

Caps Relinquish Initiative After Finally Grabbing The Lead

Richards was again at the heart of New York’s biggest chance of the second half, sprinting onto Lade’s through ball after a Solli flick-on to advance on Cannon’s goal. The veteran stopper was out smartly to narrow Richards’ angle and block his shot.

Rennie brought Jordan Harvey on for Chiumiento on 80 minutes to curtail the Jamaican’s threat as Vancouver’s high pressing gave way for a five-man midfield in the defensive phase that started from behind the center circle. That allowed New York’s full-backs Roy Miller and Barklage to push forward, and good work by Solli led to a corner on 87 minutes.

Lindpere’s short one-two with Richards caught the Whitecaps’ defense in disarray, and six New York players converged unopposed on the 6-yard line to provide the Estonian with a range of targets.

Pearce reached the inswinging cross first, having eluded Le Toux’s feeble attempt to match his run, to score his first goal for the Red Bulls and his first ever goal in MLS.

Conclusion

The inability to put finishing touches to some excellent moves came back to bite Vancouver.

New York’s play wasn’t pretty in large spells. Lade, Lindpere and Barklage each wasted more than 30% of their passes with Solli and Richards faring only slightly better. The midfield failed to involve top scorer Cooper in their rare attacks, although Richards’ threat did lead to the visitors registering six shots on goal to Vancouver’s one.

Ultimately, a moment of slackness by Vancouver’s defense let the Red Bulls off the hook.