Vancouver Whitecaps FC powered past visiting Toronto FC in the second half on the way to a 1–0 win as their Major League Soccer season kicked off at BC Place in Vancouver on Saturday.
After an even first half, in which Toronto FC held their own, Vancouver coach Martin Rennie brought in former English Premier League veteran Nigel Reo-Coker to turn around the game.
And that’s just what Reo-Coker did. Veteran of over 200 games in the EPL, Reo-Coker helped the Whitecaps to regain control of the midfield and dictate play.
“We changed our system,” said Rennie in his postmatch press conference. “We managed the ball well at the end of the game.”
“He [Reo-Coker] drove the team on. His weight of pass forward was very good,” Rennie said. “He has a presence about him.”
In the 59th minute, a nice combination led to Gershon Koffie’s winning goal. Y.P. Lee played a nice one-two with Scottish striker Kenny Miller. Then, Lee fed Daigo Kobayashi in the penalty area, who laid it off for the oncoming Koffie. Koffie finished with ease past Joe Bendik in the TFC goal.
Toronto FC started brightly, taking the game to the Whitecaps. Welsh striker Robert Earnshaw struck a hard roller that was easily saved by Joe Cannon in the fifth minute.
A minute later, Vancouver captain Jay DeMerit had to leave the game with a left calf strain. He had been battling an Achilles injury.
Brad Rusin came in for DeMerit and defended very well, notably against the much smaller Earnshaw.
As an example of TFC rebuilding as the season unfolds, Earnshaw just arrived from the UK earlier in the week and has barely had a chance to practice with teammates.
Vancouver’s experience started to take hold in the second half with the introduction of Reo-Coker. He came in place of young speedster Kekuta Manneh, who had his moments in the first half, but will need to gain more experience.
Toronto FC, once again, is starting from “Square 1” under the direction of new president Kevin Payne, new head coach Ryan Nelsen guiding a host of new players, and no German skipper Torsten Frings. Nelsen was playing in the English Premier League for QPR as recently as early February.
“This team will only get stronger,” Nelsen said in his postmatch press conference. Nelsen felt Vancouver would have their surge and it came down to TFC not being able to withstand it. He was happy with the first half of the game away from home.
About his new signings, Nelsen said, “They didn’t really have the preseason under their belt.”
Vancouver also has a few new faces; however, the expectations are much higher after, last year, becoming the first Canadian MLS team to reach the playoffs.
One of Toronto’s brightest stars, Luis Silva, was not in the lineup due to injury. But Kyle Bekker, Toronto’s top pick in the MLS draft, put in a strong performance and was the creative force in TFC’s attacks. Drafted third overall, Bekker didn’t look out of place at all.
Bendik was under constant pressure early in the second half and kept his team in the game as Vancouver was surging. Toronto FC may have a lot of holes to plug, but their goaltending tandem of Bendik and Stefan Frei is solid.
This year is the second year that the Whitecaps and TFC met in a season opener; Vancouver beat Toronto 4–2 in 2011. The 2013 MLS season is Vancouver’s third season in the league and Toronto’s seventh.
Next Saturday will be Toronto FC’s home opener as Sporting Kansas City visits. Vancouver stays at home and welcomes Columbus.
Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports
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