Orlando, Florida — No one would have expected this. Two completely different sides with two completely different stories ending up in the same spot in the quarter finals. On one side, a depleted, weakened Vancouver Whitecaps roster that advanced by the skin of their teeth and nothing more. They faced off against one of the MLS is Back Tournament favorites, one of the lions of the Orlando jungle, Sporting Kansas City.
Vancouver had been out shot 74-19 coming into this one. Now, you can blame that on their lack of striking options, the midfield for never really firing on all cylinders or the defense that allowed all of those attacks. Regardless, a single 2-0 win over the Chicago Fire managed to send the Whitecaps through.
However, Kansas City had a much different approach to this tournament. Wins over the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake gave SKC the top spot in Group D. Kansas had only scored one more goal than the Whitecaps, despite having more than double their shots in the group stage.
MLS: Chance after chance goes begging for Kansas City
After suffering a sprain in his thumb against Seattle, Vancouver keeper Max Crepeau’s tournament was finished. Backup goalkeeper Bryan Meredith was forced to leave Orlando due to the unfortunate passing of his mother. That left 21-year-old academy product Thomas Hasal to take the reins. Hasal hadn’t let in a goal in over 120 minutes at the tournament so far, and it looked like that wasn’t going to change any time soon.
Aided by a brave effort from his defense — most notably from Derek Cornelius — Hasal turned aside everything he faced. A number of sprawling and acrobatic stops later, the clock reached half time and the struggling Whitecaps needed to regroup. Despite being compact and not conceding, it wasn’t a full team effort at this point.
With the midfield generating a bit more possession and even some chances in the second half, it was still Kansas who dominated this one. Yet, nothing could beat the trio of Cornelius, Veselinovic and Hasal. With countless chances not being capitalized on, you just had that sneaking suspicion that it might just turn out to be Vancouver’s day.
An 18-year-old beat a 21-year-old to win the game. The future is bright. 🌟
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 27, 2020
Kansas City hit the spot
After a grueling and exhausting 90 minutes, Vancouver dragged themselves into a penalty shoot out. With the Quarterfinals just 12 yards away, the pressure was undoubtedly on SKC to deliver. Dájome stepped up for Vancouver, but he hit a belter off of the right post and it stayed out. Alan Pulido took the long walk first for Kansas, before sending Hasal the wrong way. Leo Owusu was up next, who rifled one down the middle, equalling the score. Ilie Sanchez regained the lead for Kansas, despite Hasal getting a hand to it.
Surprisingly, up next was Cornelius, who had his effort palmed away quite easily by Tim Melia. Dániel Sallói wasn’t able to convert, with Hasal diving across into the bottom left hand corner making the stop. Yordy Reyna had a massive opportunity to tie the shoot out, but Vancouver’s third miss from four shots gifted Gianluca Busio the chance to be Kansas City’s hero.
This time, he converted.
MLS Man of the match: Thomas Hasal
There was no one else this could have been. Given the situation Hasal was thrown into at this tournament, he had the backing of every neutral fan at this tournament. Making eight saves, and one more in the shoot out, Hasal undoubtedly deserves this honor. If it weren’t for his heroics, this one could have been ugly for Vancouver.
Yes, he did have a lot of help from defense. Yes, they didn’t end up winning the game. However, the impact the young Saskatchewan native had on the Whitecaps, and on this fixture, how could you not give him the award?
Sporting Kansas City will now face the Philadelphia Union in the MLS is Back Quarterfinals on Thursday night.
Never a doubt.
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) July 27, 2020