Photo: Earl Gardner
In drawing 0-0 with the Vancouver Whitecaps at PPL Park on Saturday, the Union earned their first point of the season, though they will lament a series of missed opportunities to take all three points in a tightly contested match.
All the pregame chatter focused around the return of former Union striker Sebastien Le Toux, especially as questions about who will score the goals for the 2012 Union remain unanswered. Not that Vancouver’s offense is running on all cylinders, with the Whitecaps having only three goals from their opening three matches.
In this tight and cagey affair, a goalless draw may have always been in the cards from the start. Rookie first round draft pick Chandler Hoffman earned his debut for the Union, but could not provide the offensive spark required to kickstart the Union attack. And while it was no victory, Zac MacMath and the Union defense will take confidence from their first clean sheet of the season.
With Danny Califf restored to the starting lineup, coach Peter Nowak returned to a four-man back line, with Porfirio Lopez again preferred at left back despite a rough opening to his Union career over the first three matches. In the midfield, following a strong second half display in Chicago, Gabriel Farfan took over for his brother on the right flank.
When the match kicked off, though, it became clear that the Union would not conform to a traditional 4-4-2 alignment. Rather than deploy Hoffman in his regular striking role, Nowak elected to begin with the debutant wide on the left. Keon Daniel joined Brian Carroll and Gabriel Gomez in the center of the park as the Union looked to take control Vancouver’s playmakers.
The Whitecaps were without the influential Camilo Sanvezzo. A fixture of the Whitecaps and a dangerous partner for Davide Chiumiento, Sanvezzo joined regular starters Eric Hassli and Alain Rochat on the sidelines with injuries, the latter providing an opportunity for Jordan Harvey to earn a start against his former club.
With all the pressure on the Union to take their first three points of the season, the first half failed to live up to the pre-match hype. Zac MacMath bested Le Toux for the first half’s single highlight. Flying off his line as the Whitecaps’ danger man sliced through the Union defense in the 15th minute, MacMath got to the ball before Le Toux was able to make his final move around the Union keeper, who was sharp and aggressive off his line all night.
Chiumiento attempted to shoulder the entirety of the creative load for the Caps, but Carlos Valdes and Danny Califf had Le Toux and strike partner Atiba Harris well marshaled, limiting Chiumiento’s influence.
Despite their numeric advantage in midfield, the Union struggled to turn positive spells of possession into goal-scoring opportunities. Lionard Pajoy was thoroughly neutralized by Jay DeMerit, and Martin Bonjour prevented Chandler from influencing proceedings from his wide position.
As the match wore towards half, the Union shifted formation into the 4-4-2 most expected upon seeing the starting XI, allowing Hoffman to roam higher up the pitch. While his speed and movement asked more questions of the Whitecaps’ defense, the Union failed to trouble Joe Cannon before the interval, failing to record a shot on goal in the first 45 minutes.
With Porfirio Lopez again proving ineffective, Michael Farfan entered the match and immediately helped the Union to find their attacking feet.
A string of attempts early in the second half nearly had the Union in front. First, Valdes nodded Keon Daniel’s corner against the post, and then Brian Carroll missed a gilt-edged opportunity.
Ghosting toward the back post, Carroll received an inch-perfect lofted cross from Gabriel Gomez, but with the goal gaping, Carroll failed to get any weight behind his shot. Cannon was able to scramble across and smother the effort.
With Michael Farfan and Keon Daniel moving the ball well and threatening to overrun Vancouver’s defense, the Union were comfortably on the front foot, yet the final touch continued to be lacking.
In the 76th minute, the Union would again spurn an excellent chance to nose into the lead. This time, Danny Califf beat Cannon to another corner whipped in by Keon Daniel, only to send his powerful header sailing over the bar, with the empty net at his mercy.
With the Union committing more and more numbers into the pursuit of a matchwinner, they were nearly made to pay as Le Toux once more carved through the Union defense. Racing beyond Carlos Valdes, MacMath again dashed off his line, forcing Le Toux into a difficult chip which flew harmlessly over the crossbar.
Danny Mwanga entered with five minutes to go as the Union continued to pour forward but could find no holes through DeMerit and Bonjour. In the end, Vancouver wrapped up their fourth clean sheet in as many matches.
For the Union, they head into the bye week buoyed by an improved performance and their first point, but still lacking in offensive potency and well aware of the work still to be done.
Zac MacMath; Sheanon Williams, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Porfirio Lopez (Michael Farfan ’45); Brian Carroll, Keon Daniel (Danny Mwanga ’86), Gabriel Gomez, Gabriel Farfan; Chandler Hoffman (Jack McInerney ’51), Lionard Pajoy
Unused Substitutes: Amobi Okugo, Chase Harrison, Josue Martinez, Chris Albright
Joe Cannon; Lee Young-Pyo, Martin Bonjour, Jay DeMerit, Jordan Harvey; Jun Davidson, Matt Watson, John Thorrington (Gershon Koffie ’59), Davide Chiumiento; Sebastien Le Toux, Atiba Harris (Long Tan ’70)
Unused Substitutes: Floyd Franks, Carlyle Mitchell, Brad Knighton, Greg Klazura, Omar Salgado