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Vancouver Whitecaps victory over LAFC overshadowed by fan protest

VANCOUVER — An announced 17,038 fans turned out Wednesday to see the Vancouver Whitecaps beat league leader Los Angeles FC 1-0 at BC Place. The victory got the “monkey off the back,” as wingback Jake Nerwinski explained after the game.

“You guys know that the players were frustrated, but they were never down, never negative,” Caps coach Marc Dos Santos said after the game. “Yeah, this win was big for the club, you know, everyone in the club has worked so hard.”

But Vancouver’s triumph was overshadowed by a fan walkout in the 35th minute. 

Vancouver’s major fan organizations announced the protest ahead of the game, following allegations brought forward by 14 former high-level players that in 2008 Canada Soccer and the Vancouver Whitecaps failed to protect youth team members from abuse and inappropriate behavior by a coach.

Players and officials failed to comment on the case. But the club did issue a statement on the club’s official homepage Wednesday.

Before the protest, the Vancouver Whitecaps had a strong start to the match. Victor “PC” Giro broke through on the left, but his shot from 14 yards did not hit the target.

An encouraging start that slowly turned into dominance during the early stages of the match. In the 13th minute, Yordy Reyna tested LAFC keeper Tyler Miller with a shot from a distance. Off the ensuing corner kick, Hwang In-beom circled a ball just outside the far corner of LAFC’s goal. 

Then in the 25th minute, LAFC midfielder Peter-Lee Vassell almost scored the opening goal, testing Caps keeper Maxime Crépeau with a short-range header. It would have been a goal completely against the run of play. Vassell missed the target, however, and just two minutes later the Whitecaps took the lead. 

It all started with a run on the left by PC, who was given too much room by LAFC’s defense. His curled effort hit the far post, but from there it bounced to In-beom, and the Korean easily scored his first ever MLS goal. 

“I thought PC’s shot was going in, so I went for it and put it in,” In-beom said before going on to talk about the pressure he felt entering the match still without a goal this season. “It would be a lie to say I didn’t feel any pressure; I am a national team player and a DP. But Mark [Dos Santos] and the coaching staff talked me through the situation. They told me, ‘You are not Zlatan, you are a developing player.'”

Apr 17, 2019; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Whitecaps defender Ali Adnan (53) celebrates the win with goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau (16) after the end of the second half at BC Place. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Then in the 35th minute, the walkout began. The south side of BC Place quickly emptied as the two largest fan groups, Curva Collective and Southsiders, left the stands. 

“I am focusing on the game, I didn’t know what happened. I’m locked in when I am playing, didn’t notice it,” Whitecaps defender Doneil Henry told reporters when asked about the walkout. 

The players may have not noticed, but the stadium fell silent and the atmosphere felt more like a friendly match than a meaningful one against the top team in the league. But on the pitch, the action continued, and just before halftime, in the 45th minute, Crépeau came up with a beautiful stop of a Vassell shot to preserve the Caps lead. 

Both sides had chances straight from the second-half kickoff. First Henry spectacularly blocked a close-range shot by LAFC’s Diego Rossi. Vancouver’s Lucas Venuto picked up the ball and sprinted across the entire pitch, but then saw his shot blocked by Miller. 

That double chance somewhat determined the pattern of the second half. The Caps were now sitting deep trying to hit LAFC on the counterattack. 

It was a strategy with some risk because LAFC had the majority of possession and also developed chances.

Vela could have added to his already-impressive tally of eight goals and five assists this season in the 69th minute, when he was wide open in front of the goal. But the Mexican had a rare sitter, missing the target completely from just a few yards out.

Los Angeles controlled proceedings in the final stage of the match and piled the pressure on Vancouver. Mark-Anthony Kaye and Vela had chances to equalize in the 83rd and 86th minutes, respectively, but failed to hit the target. 

“They are a team that doesn’t want to lose. They have a team there that has very high ambitions, and on the other hand there was a team that haven’t won all year,” Dos Santos said, describing the battle between the two sides toward the end of the match.

The Caps barely hung on during the final moments of the game, but somehow kept LAFC from scoring and in the end collected their first three points of the season.

“If you take our last three games before tonight, … we have been playing some decent football and it is coming together,” Henry said. “Sometimes things can be nasty in the dressing room if you don’t win, but we came together and got the win.”

Lineups

Vancouver Whitecaps (4-3-3)

Crépeeau – Adnan, Henry, Godoy, Nerwinski – Teibert, Erice (Felipe, 78′), Inbeom – “PC” (Montero, 90′), Reyna, Venuto (Bangoura, 74′)

Los Angeles FC (4-3-3)

Miller – Hämäläinen (El-Munir, 65′), Segura, Silva, Brewer – Blessing (Kaye, 41′), Atuesta, Vassell – Rossi, Ramirez (Pérez, 65′), Vela

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