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Whitecaps’ stunning comeback overshadows Bunbury’s goals

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It was as if the script was written by Vince McMahon. The heel takes some early liberties. Then, the crowd roars as the hero gets off the mat.

In this case, the heel was Teal Bunbury — the Sporting Kansas City forward scored twice to stake his team to a 3-0 lead over the Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday at Empire Field. The hero? Camilo da Silva Sanvezzo, who scored twice in stoppage time as the Whitecaps roared back to snatch a 3-3 draw in what has to go down as one of the most exciting games in MLS history.

What started as an exercise in booing Bunbury —who last year opted to leave the Canadian program and play for the United States, making him Public Enemy No. 1 to MLS fans north of the border — turned into one of the most rousing comebacks in the history of Whitecaps-86ers-Whitecaps soccer. That includes NASL, CSL, A-League, USL, you name it.

Trailing 3-1 going into stoppage time, the Whitecaps simply overran a SKC squad that had become obsessed with slowing down the game, and couldn’t shift its game back into top gear.

Whitecaps midfielder Terry Dunfield sprung Davide Chiumiento with a ball down the right side, which the Swiss midfielder squared for Camilo to slot home. Camilo got the start in the place of Designated Player Eric Hassli, missing due to red-card suspension.

Ninety seconds later, Whitecaps forward Atiba Harris, who scored on a tap-in to start the Whitecaps rally, took advantage of some lazy play from the SKC backline. A long, desperate ball was played into the SKC end. No defender decided to move decisively to it, and Harris, determined, got the ball and then rampaged towards the penalty area. He laid it off for subsititute Nazir Khalfan, who laid a perfect cross across the area, which Camilo got his head to. The ball went right into the top corner, offering no chance for keeper Jimmy Nielsen to get to it.

As much as Harris and Camilo will get the headlines, Whitecaps coach Teitur Thordarson deserves credit for a pair of inspired substitutions. At 3-0 down, Khalfan was inserted in front of the hobbled Greg Janicki, wh was having a horrible time in the centre of defence, victimized by Bunbury for the second SKC goal, and out of position on the visitors’ third marker, from Kei Kamara. Janicki started in place of Jay DeMerit, who couldn’t go due to injury.

Khalfan gave the Whitecaps great energy. He made a fantastic run down the left then sent a perfect low cross across the area for Harris to direct home; he was key with the cross on the equalizing goal.

And Chiumiento, who missed last week’s loss to Philadelphia because of a hamstring strain, created huge problems on the right side, much like he did in the opening-day victory over Toronto FC. He was able to give Thordarson 26 minutes of yeoman’s work.

The rally saved Whitecaps fans from having to endure the thought of the game being remembered as Bunbury’s Great Day.

Teal Bunbury
Bunbury was booed lustily every time he touched the ball. But, just seconds before the halftime whistle, his perfect shot from just outside the box gave Whitecaps keeper Jay Nolly no chance. Then, in the 58th minute, he was able to turn Janicki inside and out before beating Nolly.

Vancouver fans chanted “traitor, traitor,” after each goal.

It would have been a hard pill to swallow. MLS and Sporting Kansas City did their best to downplay the Bunbury-in-Canada angle. In a pre-game preview on MLSSoccer.com, the SKC writer’s feature on Bunbury made no mention of his return to Canada — the interview solely focused on Bunbury’s return from an elbow injury, SKC did not make Bunbury available for pregame phone interviews, protecting him from the Canadian media. Bunbury was made available only at SKC’s training site. Considering the pressure that would be put on the young player, the move was understandable.

But Bunbury rose to the challenge, even thrived on it.

Ironically, in a game that ended 3-3, some credit has to go to Nielsen. Despite giving up three in the second half, he put on an absolute clinic in the first 45. He made a fantastic double save, dirst stopping Camilo then Blake Wagner on the rebound. He was able to keep a fantastic strike from Harris out, and did very well to stop a Camilo bullet.

Camilo was dangerous all game long. Bunbury showed he could go into the lion’s den and put together an inspired performance. But, in the end, Camilo left the field with a smile — and the villain was left holding his head, wondering what had happened.

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