RICHMOND, B.C. – The Vancouver Whitecaps played their final home game of the season on Sunday afternoon at Minoru Park and came away with a 1-1 draw against the USL W-League Western Conference last place Victoria Highlanders. Brandi Vega scored her first career goal for Whitecaps in the 53rd minute after coming on as a substitute before the second half started. The Highlanders have earned all of their points this season (4) against their provincial rivals. The Whitecaps didn’t show up in the first half and have only themselves to blame for not securing their fourth win of the season.
The first twenty minutes of the game were played sloppy with both teams deciding to kick the ball halfway up the field before giving it away with a bad pass. Perhaps pre-game jitters or the incredible sunny weather caused both sides to start off slow. Whitecaps defender Demi Stokes had the best chance to score early when she headed the ball towards the Highlanders net after a Danielle Johnson cross. Highlanders goalie Tanya Jones was positioned well to make an easy save. Whitecaps leading scorer Mele French had a glorious chance to open the scoring in the 33rd minute when the ball was misplayed by Highlanders defender Nina Anderson. Anderson flat-out missed the ball which went right to French. With only Jones to beat French sailed her shot over the net and wide right.
Anderson would redeem herself by scoring the opening goal for the Highlanders in the 38th minute. Elizabeth Hansen took what turned out to be the only corner of the game for Victoria and the ball found Anderson in a maze of players. Anderson used her height advantage to head the ball past Whitecaps goalie Gurveen Clair and into the net. The Whitecaps went into halftime down 1-0 after a lackluster opening forty-five minutes.
Mele French was looking to score two minutes after the break when she headed the ball on goal. Jones dove to her right and just managed to get her hand on the ball to keep the Highlanders ahead. Whitecaps coach Jesse Symons brought on forward Brandi Vega for Taylor Patterson and the Carson City, Nevada, native provided a huge spark for the Whitecaps.
Vega knotted the game 1-1 in the 53rd minute when she leaped and chipped the ball past Jones. Vega was at the side of the Highlanders net unmarked and in the right place at the right time. Vega’s goal seemed to provide the Whitecaps with more confidence for the remaining thirty-five minutes. She had a chance to score in the 60th minute when she cut in and curled a low shot on goal that was turned aside by Jones. Vega also had an attempt on goal saved by Jones in the 80th minute. Besides causing havoc for the Highlanders back four Vega also picked up a yellow card and put forth the best effort on the pitch by any player on both teams.
Vega described her goal following the game and her mentality coming off the bench.
“There was a little scramble in the box and I saw a loose ball and I just kind of tapped it and let it float it. The timing had a lot to do with it,” she said. “Bringing some more energy to the field that’s kind of what you do coming on as a sub just to bring another level of motivation out there to the rest of the team and try to set a little fire under all of us so we can get something going and we got the goal and we started rolling again and just couldn’t put another one in.”
The Whitecaps played like a completely different team in the second half. The final shots total was 30-5 with Tanya Jones making 14 saves for the Highlanders. Most of the shots Jones saved were right at her and had she not played as well as she did, Vancouver might have had a comeback victory to end their home schedule.
The Whitecaps also had a significant edge in corners, 9-1.
French leads the Whitecaps with five goals in 11 games and appeared to be visibly frustrated with her team’s play during the game. French spoke with the media after the final whistle.
“We all actually weren’t impressed with our first half and we came out and we maybe took them a bit lightly which we said that we shouldn’t have in the first place because they did beat us in our first game so we basically just came in and said, ‘we need to step it up right now. They’re not dominating us but they had once chance and they scored,’ ” she said. “We came out in the second half and had some fresh legs going in there proven that they could get the job done and we did a little better but just couldn’t finish our opportunities.”
Whitecaps coach Jesse Symons was focusing on the positive play of his team in the second half following the game.
“As a group we had a lot of talk before the match that we were really going to go and compete and we didn’t do that in the first half to the level that the players are capable of, ” he said. “They’re pretty upset about it actually as a group so they came out in the second half and really fought and did well to get the goal back and definitely created enough chances to win the match but didn’t have that final product today.”
Despite the 1-1 draw, Symons did not feel that the Whitecaps underestimated the Highlanders.
“No we don’t underestimate anyone in this league”, he said. “We need to be a team that goes out and works harder than other teams and for the most part we did that tonight but allowed a goal off a set piece. Give Victoria credit they got a chance and they took it and held on for the draw.”
Vancouver Whitecaps FC Starting XI: Gurveen Clair; Danielle Johnson, Jenna Carosio, Brittany Galindo, Demi Stokes; Taylor Patterson, Jennifer Jeffers, Paige Adams, Molly Rouse; Marissa Mykines, Mele French
Victoria Highlanders FC Starting XI: Tanya Jones; Mallory Hackett, Nikki Turner, Kelsey Tikka, Nina Anderson; Jackie Harrison, Kaite Kraeutner, Mariel Solsberg; Liz Hansen, Lindsay Hoetzal, Sarah Douglas
Notes: Whitecaps defender Shannon Woeller was in Calgary for a wedding and did not play. The attendance was 677. The Whitecaps wrap up their season with road games against the Colorado Rush and Colorado Rapids on July 13 & July 15.
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