Gershon Koffie’s goal in the 60th minute gave the Vancouver Whitecaps a 1-0 victory over Toronto FC on Saturday in the 2013 MLS season opener for both teams.
Koffie helped the Caps win their season opener for their third year in a row. He scored following some beautiful passing shortly after Vancouver took control of a game that was close in the first 45 minutes.
The Whitecaps won their first-ever MLS game against Toronto in 2011 and beat Montreal in last year’s season opener en route to becoming the first Canadian team to qualify for the league playoffs.
“It’s very good to get our first win,” said Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie. “First game of the season is always a little bit of a nervy affair.”
“In the second half, we changed the system, we changed the way that we played, and I thought we dominated the second half.”
The loss spoiled the debut of new TFC coach Ryan Nelsen, a recently retired English Premier League star and New Zealand international, who has undertaken several lineup changes in a bid to improve Toronto’s 10th place Eastern Conference finish in 2012.
The Reds demonstrated they still have much cohesion to develop as they held the Whitecaps to few chances in the first half but surrendered numerous scoring chances in the second.
“The second half, we probably just didn’t withstand the 15 minutes that Vancouver had and they got their goal,” said Nelsen. “It was really disappointing, because it was a routine long ball and we didn’t pick up the second ball, and then it resulted in a goal. And after that, we were probably chasing the game.”.
Despite the close score, Vancouver had little trouble keeping the ball in the Toronto half of the pitch for most of the final 45 minutes.
Joe Cannon, 38, picked up the shutout as he started in goal for Vancouver after he was displaced as the club’s No. 1 during the 2012 stretch drive and playoffs. Many wondered whether Cannon would be welcomed back, but he hired a personal trainer in the off-season and earned the first start ahead of Brad Knighton, who had taken over his job late last season.
Joe Bendik drew Toronto’s starting goalkeeper assignment after he was acquired in a trade from Portland. Stefan Frei, last season’s No. 1, missed the game as he continues to recuperate from a broken nose.
After starting their first two MLS seasons with considerable uncertainty, the Whitecaps, hoped to take advantage of their stable lineup. But Vancouver lost captain Jay DeMerit to an injury early in the match.
DeMerit landed awkwardly after making a header in the sixth minute and left the pitch on the shoulders of a couple of trainers as he was unable to put weight on his left leg.
A Whitecaps spokesman said DeMerit suffered a left calf strain. The 33-year-old Green Bay Wis., native has been bothered by an Achilles tendonitis in recent weeks, and his status for the game was uncertain until late in the week.
During the sequence in which DeMerit was injured, Cannon dove to stop a shot by Toronto striker Robert Earnshaw, a former English Premier League star who was signed Friday. DeMerit was replaced at centre back by newcomer Brad Rusin, who was acquired in January on a transfer from HB Koge of the Danish First Division.
“I was really pleased with the first game and, another two or three games, I think we’re going to get better,” said Earnshaw.
Rusin, a 26-year-old Crown Point, Ind., native, made his MLS debut after toiling a year and a half in Denmark. He previously played for Whitecaps coach Rennie with the second-tier Carolina RailHawks.
Vancouver rookie Kekuta Manneh, 18, the club’s top draft pick (fourth overall) in this year’s MLS SuperDraft, impressed early with some nice runs. He had a beautiful scoring chance on 14 minutes as obtained the ball in the middle of the Toronto 18-yard box, but his shot was blocked by Reds defender Richard Eckersley before Bendik easily stopped it.
“I’m pleased with the guys,” said Eckersley. “I’m disappointed we lost the game, but I think the foundation’s there we can build on.”
Rusin was put to the test in the 40th minute as Earnshaw made a run down the right flank into the Vancouver box. The new Whitecaps defender slid to make a nice tackle, getting his leg on the ball and avoiding a foul that would have led to a Toronto penalty-kick.
The rebuilding Reds were credited with five shots in the first half compared to three for Vancouver. Cannon recorded two saves while Bendik made one.
Nigel Reo-Coker, a former English Premier League star who was Vancouver’s top acquisition, subbed in for Manneh at the start of the second half, and the close game soon turned in Vancouver’s favour.
The Caps needed just six minutes to generate a couple of dangerous chances, but were thwarted by Toronto’s defensive efforts. TFC midfielder Terry Dunfield got his head on a Young-Pyo Lee shot.
In the 51st minute, goalkeeper Bendik dove to get his hand on curving Daigo Kobayashi free kick. A sliding Rusin was unable to get his foot on the rebound in time.
From there, the Whitecaps had several chances but could not score. Koffie finally capitalized following some brilliant passing inside and outside the Toronto area.
First Lee and Kenny Miller worked a give-and-go. Then, after getting the ball back, Lee rolled the ball to Kobayashi, standing just inside the top of the 18. Kobayashi quickly tapped the ball back to Koffie and he drilled it past diving TFC ‘keeper Bendik.
Toronto never seriously pressed for the equalizer, and the Whitecaps enjoyed several more scoring opportunities for the rest of the game. As the final whistle sound, the sellout crowd of 21,000 game gave the home squad a rousing ovation.
Notes: Toronto midfielder Terry Dunfield took a yellow card for a hard tackle in the 27th minute. ... The start of the game was delayed as a curling match between Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island at the Brier went into an extra end, and TSN chose to air the conclusion. Then the network aired an introduction on the soccer match before the referee finally signalled for play to begin.