June 28, 2013: Victoria Highlanders @ Vancouver Whitecaps U-23

Whitecaps U-23 Victoria
22 GK Marco Carducci 29 GK Elliott Mitrou
4 DF James Farenhorst 2 DF Kalem Scott
5 DF Derrick Bassi 5 DF Ryan Ashlee
2 DF Colton O'Neill 15 DF Andrew Ravenhill
3 MF Ethen Sampson out 77' 13 DF Tyler Hughes
23 MF Cam Hundal 10 MF Riley O'Neil
16 MF Michael Winter 16 MF Brett Levis goal 40'
24 MF Peter Bow 4 MF Gavin Barrett out 81'
17 FW Niall Cousens red 74' 24 MF Gareth Langdon
12 FW Sasa Plavsic goal 23' 17 FW Jordie Hughes
20 FW Bobby Jhutty 21 FW Blair Sturrock
26 MF Kevin Cobby in 77' 26 MF Sam Prette in 81'

The Canada Day long weekend began in style in Vancouver. What had been a cloudy, rain-threatening Friday afternoon gave way to an excellent evening with the setting sun just breaking through as the Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-23s met the Victoria Highlanders to decide the 2013 Juan de Fuca Plate.

The situation was simple. If Victoria won, they would take the Plate. If Vancouver won, or if there was a draw, the Whitecaps would retain the Plate as they had a superior goal differential.

The game also held heavy playoff implications. Victoria was first in the Northwest Division at kickoff, two points ahead of Portland; Vancouver was third, three points ahead of Seattle but the Sounders enjoyed a game in hand. With the top three teams in the division going to the playoffs and the first-place team getting a bye to the conference semi-finals, both Victoria and Vancouver had a huge amount to play for even without the Juan de Fuca Plate.

The Whitecaps were short-handed. With a first-team game the day after and the U-18 Residency team coming off a successful playoff in Houston, the Whitecaps U-23 lineup was largely limited to their players on USL PDL deals. The one exception was goalkeeper Marco Carducci, who had been in Houston with the Residency but was flown in on short notice to backstop the Whitecaps U-23s. Carducci, 17 years old, would be making his USL PDL debut.

The teams had shown attacking flair in their first two games against each other and this game was no different early. The Whitecaps went straight onto the attack before their best home crowd of the season. Michael Winter, a habitual scorer from range, cranked a shot not far over the crossbar, and a Sasa Plavsic chance against his former team was neatly saved by the agile Highlanders goalkeeper Elliott Mitrou. A good Peter Bow shot was also well-stopped as the Highlanders looked unable to cope with the Whitecaps and their aggressive 3-4-3.

Finally, Vancouver got on the board. It was the former Highlander, Plavsic, scoring his first goal as a Whitecaps U-23 and becoming the first man to score for two teams in the Juan de Fuca Plate. Taking the ball on a short run himself, Plavsic was unchallenged by the Victoria defense, and just past the top of the eighteen-yard box he hammered a right-footed shot which could not have been struck better, curling around Mitrou and into the goal to the surprise and delight of the Whitecaps supporters in attendance.

That, however, would represent Vancouver's high-water mark. From that point on the first-place Highlanders would show why they were so highly ranked, as they would attempt to fight their way back into the game. The first chance, by Gavin Barrett, was a tremendous long-range shot that only just floated over the crossbar.

Victoria gradually established greater possession in midfield, with University of Saskatchewan product Brett Levis in particular looking dangerous. On more than one occasion Levis checked back to win the ball several times before steering the attack, and it was just this type of play which led to Victoria's equalizer. Levis, having won the ball, laid it off to veteran Jordie Hughes. Hughes then sprang Levis with an excellently timed pass up the middle, and Levis's accurate shot gave Carducci no chance. It was 1-1, but a draw still gave Vancouver the Plate.

In the second half almost every attack was Victoria's. Vancouver had a few decent looks through Plavsic and Niall Cousens, but the aggressive Victoria defense smothered the chances before they could develop. Meanwhile, the Highlanders came at Marco Carducci in waves. His first great save came just past the hour mark, as Levis looked to return the favour to Jordie Hughes with the one-two. Hughes's frightfully powerful shot was parried well by Carducci and the rebound deflected safely away.

Vancouver's best scoring chance of the second half turned into their greatest danger. In the seventy-third minute Niall Cousens, long frustrated by tough marking, was finally sprung on a clear run by a fine pass. Cousens had to run onto the pass and Mitrou came out to challenge him. With a defender also on his shoulder, Cousens tried to get around both the defender and Mitrou but was tripped up and went down. As he fell, Cousens (some say deliberately) caught Mitrou with his foot. Referee Phil Barrington was among the doubters, called Cousens over and, after pro-longed debate where Cousens seemed loathe to look at Barrington because he knew what was coming, showed him his second yellow card. Vancouver would play with ten men.

Victoria's dominance only increased, and though substitute Kevin Cobby managed a few daring runs for Vancouver the only question was now whether Victoria would take the lead, or whether Carducci would keep them out. The young Whitecaps goalkeeper was in magnificent form, not only with his shot-stopping but cutting out crosses, charging down the ball, and his distribution.

In the eighty-sixth minute Carducci made two of the finest saves you'll see at the USL PDL level. While the Vancouver supporters chanted their traditional "eight-six", Victoria was in the ascendance. Co-leading Juan de Fuca Plate scorer Jordie Hughes was fed the ball after a dangerous scramble around the box and stuck a firm shot which Carducci, lunging to his right, parried magnificently. But the rebound fell straight back to Victoria and Football League veteran Blair Sturrock off to Carducci's left, who shaped up, unleashed an excellent shot, and was robbed blind by the recovering Carducci who got back up and went left for the double save of the season. Off-balance, Sturrock launched another follow-up shot high and wide.

That was as close as Victoria would get. When the three minutes of extra time elapsed Vancouver had hung on thanks to some tenacious play and the heroics of their young goalkeeper. The Plate was presented to the triumphant young 'Caps by Whitecaps supporter Steven Lamothe and Highlanders supporter Devon Rowcliffe. The Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-23s had repeated as Juan de Fuca Plate champions.

Scoring Summary

23': 1-0 Vancouver Whitecaps U-23. Sasa Plavsic [1]
40': 1-1 Victoria Highlanders. Brett Levis [2] (Jordie Hughes)

Match Reports

Vancouver Whitecaps FC: Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-23 win Juan de Fucas Plate with 1-1 draw against Victoria
Victoria Highlanders FC: Highlanders earn point in 1-1 draw.