By ODEEN DOMINGO
PHOENIX – The absence of creases on the cheekbones of his weathered face tells you enough.
Vancouver Whitecaps coach Teitur Thordarson is not one for smiling.
But Thordarson couldn’t help but force a hint of a smirk after the Whitecaps’ 2-1 win in a scrimmage of two 45-minute halves over the Columbus Crew at the Reach 11 Soccer Complex.
His team accomplished just about everything it wanted on Tuesday, sans a Lionel Messi signing.
The Whitecaps had an impressive showing against an established franchise, a game-winner from its 17-year-old No. 1 draft pick Omar Salgado and veterans John Thorrington and Jay DeMerit, both recovering from injuries, received their first game action.
“We got a lot of young players here and we’re getting our older, more experienced players back off injury,” said Whitecaps coach Teitur Thordarson, whose team goes back to Vancouver on Wednesday for a week before coming back to Arizona to continue its preseason training.
“We’re happy with what we did today. For us, we’re getting up to this level now. It’s good to play a team like Columbus. It tells a little bit about where we stand and where our level is. We’re very happy to get the opportunity and at the same time, very happy of the game we played today.”
Second-half substitute Atiba Harris scored the match’s first goal in the 62nd minute. Harris then sent in a cross for Salgado to head in the eventual game-winner a minute after Eddie Gavin equalized off a penalty kick in the 76th minute.
The Whitecaps trotted out a reserve-looking side, playing a 4-2-3-1 in the first half:
—————————– Tan Long ————————–
— Nizar Khalfan — Davide Chiumiento — Shea Salinas
———– Gershon Koffie — Terry Dunfield ————–
Alain Rochat – M. Boxall – G. Janicki – Jonathan Leathers
————————— Jay Nolly ——————————
The Crew had much of its starting XI in a 4-4-2 to start the match:
———— Emilio Renteria —— J. Cunningham ————
D. Duka —— Rich Balchan —— E. Ekpo —— R. Rogers
Shaun Francis — A. Iro — C. Marshall —Sebastian Miranda
—————————– R. Burse ——————————-
As it did in a scrimmage vs. the Sporting Kansas City reserves on Saturday, the Crew first team struggled on offense and in possession. Without the departed Guillermo Barros Schelotto, the Crew has had trouble linking the midfield with its forwards. Columbus has just two weeks to rectify any on-field problems before its first real match — a CONCACAF Champions League game vs. Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The Crew had just one realistic scoring opportunity Tuesday – off a set piece in the 29th minute. Duka’s free kick from 19 yards out found Marshall for a free header but despite getting solid contact, the big centerback sent the ball well over the crossbar.
The Whitecaps on the other hand, had several chances early. Dunfield and Salinas had a shot apiece in the first 15 minutes, but their efforts in a 1v1 situation with Burse were saved.
Salinas put in a Man of the Match-worthy performance. His mazy runs down the right sideline seemed to always result into a scoring chance. In the 35th minute, Salinas beat a Crew defender with one touch, popping a pass up and forward, and chased down the ball in stride. The run ended in a scoring chance 16 yards away but his shot was saved.
Salinas made another good run and was fouled in the penalty box five minutes later. But Chiumiento’s weak penalty kick attempt was easily saved.
“Shea was definitely a player who played very well,” Thordarson said. “We’re very solid defensively. What I liked today was to see our attacking.”
The Crew changed its entire lineup while Whitecaps had a few changes to begin the second half.
Crew rookie forward Justin Meram didn’t see much of the ball but when he did, he showed good feet and got a good shot off in the 60th minute.
Salgado came in soon after to team with Harris up top as it was more of the same for Vancouver. It generated more chances, culminating in Harris’ goal in the 67th minute. A Crew turnover at midfield led to Dunfield’s through ball to Harris, who took a touch to the outside to beat Crew goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell before slotting it home.
Gaven, who started the second half, was able to make an impact. In the 76th minute, he was fouled after a good dribbling run into the box and tied the match on the ensuing penalty kick.
Both DeMerit and Thorrington were subbed in after the goal and a few seconds later, Salgado headed in the eventual game-winner. Salgado didn’t do much before then but he was happy to be able to make a difference in the end.
“It was a long ball to Atiba Harris and he took on a player on very well and put in a good ball,” Salgado said. “The team is doing great we have a great chemistry. We’re showing we can compete.
“I’ve learned a lot for them the veterans. I’m very happy to be here and very happy to be this young because then I can learn from everybody.”