On a rainy, overcast afternoon in Chester, the Vancouver Whitecaps traveled to Philadelphia (0-3-1) to play the winless Union.
The commanding storyline was the return of the all-too-familiar bright orange cleats of star forward Sebastian Le Toux, making his first appearance in PPL Park since leaving Philadelphia. Although the Union dominated the game between the creases, they weren’t able to put a few chances into the back of the net, tying Vancouver 0-0.
For the first time in 2012, the Union had a starting lineup closest to what they had in mind during the offseason. Not only were the returns of Sheanon Williams and Captain Danny Calif, but new faces joined this lineup as well. The most notable was the 13thoverall pick of the MLS Super Draft, rookie Chandler Hoffman.
Aside from the signing of Sebastian Le Toux, the Whitecaps are a primarily a defensive team. With four exceptional players on the back line, and a reliable goalie, some consider Vancouver to have the best defense in the MLS. It starts with defenseman Jay Demerit, who started numerous games for the USMNT in South Africa over a year ago. This defense also boasts Young-Pyo Lee, who has played in three World Cups for his home country South Korea. Finally, Joe Cannon, who has proven himself to be one of the better goalies in the league with 3 straight shutouts coming in (he made it 4 against Philadelphia).
The Union started the game looking fast, excited, and playing with a chip on their shoulder. This was their theme for the entire first half, which was for the most part, even. The Whitecaps stellar defense consistently denied chances for Philadelphia. Officially, there was only one “shot,” which was by the Union. But really, there were opportunities back and fourth throughout the first 45 minutes.
When the second half came along, the game really escalated with chances for both sides. Chances were closer and more frequent. In the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Union had 2 chances generated from impressive crosses to Carlos Valdes and Brian Carroll and one shot form the foot of Keon Daniel, none of whom could put the ball past Cannon.
In the 84th minute, Le Toux had a chance to show Peter Nowak just how big of a mistake he had made in the offseason. He made a nice run, staying onside as he freed himself up while entering the box. He received a ball right on his feet, and this looked like something Le Toux was so accustomed to doing for the Union in previous years, undoubtedly finishing in the back of the net. Surprisingly, the Frenchman shanked the kick high and wide above a charging Zac MacMath. This left the game in a nil-nil deadlock, which remained even until the final whistle.
Both goalkeepers played outstanding games. Cannon earned his fourth straight shutout this season.
However, that could be expected from the hottest goalie in the MLS. In the other net, the Union’s new, maligned goalie Zac MacMath showed Philadelphia’s loyal fans that he has what it takes to be an MLS goalkeeper. MacMath started the game confidently, and received his first shutout this season, something he said he was trying to accomplish before the game.
MacMath’s confidence only rose when he stopped Le Toux’s chance for a goal when he got caught 1 on 1 with the striker midway through the second half. This sense of confidence followed him throughout the game as he dove for lose balls and went up for 1-on-1 opportunities aggressively.
MacMath showed what the Union needed to see, as did the rest of the team for the most part. Now the Union just need to find the one person who can reliably finish and begin to put more balls in the goal.
Their next match is Saturday, April 14th against the Columbus Crew at PPL Park.