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Vancouver scores four in battle of the MLS basement

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Eric Hassli now has 10 goals on the season.

When the Whitecaps and the Fire met in Chicago in early May, they produced a dire 0-0 draw. It was tight and stale.

Fast forward to Sunday afternoon and, through a combination of inspired finishing, loose defensive play and some diabolical goalkeeping, the Whitecaps and Fire produced a six-goal thriller. The Whitecaps won 4-2 at Empire Field — and the Fire erased all doubt of who is the worst team in MLS at the moment.

Both teams have different men behind their benches since that May 0-0 date. Both clubs have major personnel changes.

And, just 36 seconds in, the Whitecaps had the lead, thanks to some awful positioning and poor judgment from Fire centre back Yamith Cuesta. It was a precursor to a nightmare afternoon for the Colombian, who looked so out of sorts that you’d think he was auditioning for a spot on Toronto FC’s back line.

After the Fire pressed the Whitecaps off the opening kickoff, the home team cleared the danger and left back Jordan Harvey hit a long hopeful ball towards the strikers. Cuesta overplayed the pass and ran too far across to try and cut it off. On the bounce, the ball skipped past him and went right to Eric Hassli, who smashed his shot into the top corner.

Hassli would become a central figure in the proceedings, scoring twice and having a penalty saved by Fire keeper Sean Johnson.

Fifteen minutes later, the Fire’s lackadaisical defence forced keeper Johnson into an excellent save on a low half volley from Whitecaps midfielder Gershon Koffie.

But the Whitecaps allowed the Fire to equalize in the 23rd minute thanks a backline that didn’t keep its shape. Striker Dominic Oduro dashed through a very wide hole through the middle and roofed a shot over Whitecaps keeper Jay Nolly.

The Fire got to enjoy its lead for all of 30 seconds.

Camilio, one of the shortest players on the pitch, was allowed to win a ball in the air without any challenge coming from anyone in a red Fire jersey. He played the ball back to Hassli, who rolled it into Koffie’s path. He hit a low drive that Johnson looked to have covered. But the bounce off the artificial turf went well over the keeper and into the goal.

And the shenanigans didn’t stop there. After Camilo poked the ball past Cuesta and went to chase it down, the defender blocked him off the ball, even though the Fire had other men back. After wearing the goat horns on the opening goal, Cuesta also surrendered a penalty. But Johnson redeemed himself for the Koffie goal, denying Hassli, diving to his right and, frankly, having an easy time dealing with a hip-high shot that wasn’t put close enough to the post.

But the Fire came out after the halftime break determined to spot the Whitecaps another goal. Camilo caught three Fire defenders standing still at the top of the box, making a simple turn and finding acres of space in the penalty area before calmly slotting the ball inside the post.

The Fire did create some chances. Pavel Pardo lifted a ball over the Whitecaps backline and, with his back to goal, Orr Barouch attempted to hit it in the air with the outside of his foot. But Whitecaps keeper Jay Nolly came out and smothered the chance.

The Whitecaps rubbed salt into the Fire’s wounds in the 72nd, minute. A low free kick by Camilo was stopped by Johnson, but the rebound came right to the centre of the goal area, where three Whitecaps pounced on it. (Again, no Fire jerseys on hand). The ball went off the post and Hassli was able to put in on the, ahem, third chance.

Barouch got a late equalizer, but there was no stopping the Caps from their third win of the season, or from the Fire deservedly falling to the bottom of every MLS power ranking on Monday morning.

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