Vancouver Whitecaps striker Corey Hertzog returned from concussion-like symptoms with a thunderous goal that may have vaulted him into starting lineup discussions.
Hertzog’s stunning 35-yard strike in a 2-0 victory over 10-man FC Edmonton on Wednesday helped the Whitecaps advance to the Amway Canadian Championship final and may have landed Hertzog a spot in Saturday’s MLS game at Real Salt Lake.
While Canadian midfielder Russell Teibert was terrific at BC Place — he set up Hertzog’s wonder goal and provided the corner that was headed home by FC Edmonton’s Shaun Saiko for an own goal — the night belonged to Hertzog.
The American will likely replace the misfiring Darren Mattocks for the crucial away game in Utah, but Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie wasn’t ready to reveal anything just yet.
“It was a great shot and a fantastic goal that opened the game up for us,” Rennie said. “I thought he worked really hard, he’s an exciting prospect for the club, he has got an eye for goal and he brings good attributes to the team.
“There’s definitely a few things for us to think through and make decisions on and a couple of guys definitely did themselves justice tonight.”
Hertzog’s strike in the 58th minute was followed up by Saiko’s own goal nine minutes later to seal Vancouver’s progress.
The Whitecaps, who beat Edmonton 5-2 on aggregate, will now face Montreal in a two-game final on May 15 and 29. The Impact dumped Toronto FC 6-0 on Wednesday to win 6-2 on aggregate.
Rennie opted to give interim captain Nigel Reo-Coker a rare night off against the North American Soccer League outfit, but Teibert and his fellow midfielders were still able to dominate proceedings in the Englishman’s absence.
After being relegated to the bench for Saturday’s 2-2 MLS draw at home to FC Dallas, Teibert played like he had a point to prove, as not only was he frequently involved in Vancouver’s attacking plays, he also tracked back to win possession.
Teibert caused the Eddies plenty of grief with his control and passing off his left foot, and if it wasn’t the Niagara Falls, Ont., native wreaking havoc, it was MLS veterans Gershon Koffie and Camilo.
“He was winning second balls, he was getting balls back in midfield in a crowded midfield and I thought his industry was very good,” Rennie said of Teibert. “And then obviously he’s put in a great corner, which resulted in a goal.”
FC Edmonton was pinned back in its half for the majority of the match and hardly looked like a team fighting to stay alive in the semifinal tie.
Any chance the guests had of overturning the first-leg deficit was extinguished when defender Adrian Leroy received a straight red card in the 51st minute for a tackle on Hertzog just outside the penalty box.
The dismissal left FC Edmonton acting coach Jeff Paulus fuming after the match, arguing it was merely “a tangle of legs.”
“I think at some point there has to be something in the spirit of the game when you’ve got two players staring at the ball and there’s a collision,” he said. “(It was) totally unintentional. I don’t see that as a red card, I see it as a free kick possibly.”
The Whitecaps enjoyed plenty of possession in the first half, but not for the first time this season were unable to capitalize and hurt their opponents on the scoreboard. True to form, troubled striker Mattocks was in the thick of the action when it came to missed chances.
Mattocks almost scored a sensational, and badly-needed, goal just past the half-hour mark.
Koffie took advantage of the abundance of space afforded to him by the Eddies and found Mattocks roaring into the box past Leroy, but his hard right-foot shot crashed off the post.
FC Edmonton appeared lifeless, and a minute before half-time Mattocks again came agonizingly close.
Koffie found Tommy Heinemann in the penalty box, but his low cross from the left was lifted over the bar by the enigmatic forward.
Rennie had seen enough and he duly replaced the 22-year-old with Hertzog at the interval.
Immediately after the break, Vancouver picked up where it left off by continuing to control the match, with Hertzog showing Mattocks how it is done with his blistering effort before Saiko headed home — albeit into his own net — at the near post.
“I just kind of thought that Corey might be someone who could come on and get us a goal,” Rennie said. “We felt like we needed a goal and he did that.”
FC Edmonton left it to the latter stages to try to get on the scoresheet, but reserve goalkeeper Brad Knighton and his second-string defence stood firm for the club’s first clean sheet since May 2 — a 1-0 home win over Toronto FC.
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