Eric Hassli could not have picked a better time to end a lengthy Major League Soccer scoring drought Saturday.
In fact, he had only seconds to spare.
The second-half substitute's last-minute goal in added time gave the Vancouver Whitecaps a come-from-behind 2-1 victory Saturday over the San Jose Earthquakes before a crowd of 19,271 at B.C. Place Stadium.
It was Hassli's first MLS goal since last August. He had gone 17 league games over two season without a goal.
“It's a great feeling,” said Hassli. “I would like to thank all the Vancouver fans, because I got a lot of messages via Twitter. It was just amazing. They've got my back. So I would like to dedicate this goal for everybody — because they deserve it.”
The Whitecaps improved to 5-2-3 while extending their unbeaten streak to three league games and four overall, including Canadian championship play. The league-leading Earthquakes (7-2-1) saw their unbeaten streak end at seven games.
Hassli helped the Whitecaps post their first comeback win since entering MLS in 2011. Vancouver is also just one win away from the six wins that it managed all of last season and the Whitecaps avenged a 3-1 loss to San Jose earlier this month.
“To get the win the way we did, I just think, shows what the club is starting to become,” said first-year Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie. “It's a club that believes, a team that believes, it can win — even if it's the last minute, even if it's in stoppage. They keep going.”
After taking a pass from Davide Chiumiento, Hassli fired home a shot that hit both San Jose goalkeeper Jon Busch's outstretched hand and the far post before going in. The goal came a few seconds before final whistle sounded following the fourth of added time.
Hassli, a Frenchman who turned 31 on Thursday, scored 10 goals to rank among league leaders in 2011 before he went into his lengthy dry spell. The messages of encouragement from fans had come over the course of several months. He was glad that he could finally reward them for their support.
“It's important for me to give something back, because I play for them,” he said. “If we don't have fans, soccer is nothing. We are lucky to have all these fans.”
The goal came after Hassli missed the net from the right side moments earlier in added time.
Although he had not scored in league play since last summer, Hassli did tally in the first leg of a two-game Amway Canadian championship series Wednesday in Edmonton. But, “yes, for sure,” Saturday's goal meant more.
Chiumiento was feeling pretty good, too, after he factored into the goal after also subbing on in the second half for his first league action in four games.
“I was disappointed for sure (not to) start today, and the other games that I stayed on the bench,” said Chiumiento. “But that's the decision of the coach, and it works. We are winning, so I'm for that — for my teammates, for the staff — but as a player, you want to always play.”
San Jose lost for the first time this season after leading in a game. Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop, an English-born Canadian who grew up in Vancouver and has also coached Canada's national team, said his squad grew tired following some tough recent games.
“We didn't give up, but we gave up a bad goal at the end,” said Yallop.
Gershon Koffie also scored for the Whitecaps in the first half as the hosts overcame a 1-0 deficit.
MLS scoring leader Chris Wondolowski scored for the Earthquakes. It was his 11th goal of the season.
“My goal means nothing with the loss,” said Wondolowski, who was disappointed the Quakes allowed two goals late in each half.
Vancouver enjoyed more chances than San Jose in the first half. However, the hosts were forced to play catch-up after allowing an early goal.
Wondolowski ran onto a Marvin Chavez left-footed cross from the right flank and headed the ball past Vancouver goalkeeper Joe Cannon in the 15th minute.
In the 40th minute, Koffie headed in Brazilian striker Camilo's curling cross-field free kick from about 25 yards out. Koffie stuck out his chest in triumph after scoring just his second MLS career goal.
“I felt the first half wasn't good enough, and I think we made that clear to our players at half-time,” said Vancouver coach Rennie. “We really wanted to see a lot more. I felt that we let the fans down a little bit in the first half, which is the first time I could really say that about and I wanted to see how much character they had to improve.” Vancouver had a total of eight corner-kicks, four in each half. On the other hand, San Jose could only generate one the entire game. Hassli's late goal spoiled a strong effort from Earthquakes goalkeeper Busch, who made five saves, including four in the second half alone.
Whitecaps goalkeeper Cannon was credited with four saves, with the toughest being the first of his three second-half saves. He dove to stop a Chavez shot after the Earthquakes midfielder made a quick run down field on a counter-attack following a Whitecaps free kick.
“That's probably the biggest win of the franchise,” said Cannon. “I don't think we've had one with a send-off like that, and it's great to see (Hassli) get it, because everyone knows his trials and tribulations.”
Cannon was grateful to Hassli for giving the club the late win after San Jose had netted the early goal.
“I might even French-kiss him tonight,” joked Cannon.
“Yeah, I'm still waiting,” said the native of Sarreguemines, France.
But at least his long-awaited league goal has arrived.
Notes: Saturday's contest marked the 38th anniversary of the Whitecaps' first-ever game, also against San Jose, on May 5, 1974, in the original North American Soccer League. Vancouver club president Bob Lenarduzzi was a 19-year-old defender with the team. ... The Whitecaps scratched strikers Atiba Harris, who has struggled since returning from a knee injury, and Long Tan. .
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