Pitchside: Whitecaps FC v San Jose Earthquakes

On Sunday, May 5th, 1974, Vancouver Whitecaps FC stepped onto the pitch of Empire Stadium for the very first time. The wind was a blowing at a manageable nine kilometres per hour. And although it had been warmer earlier in the day, the clouds brought the temperature down to 12º C. In other words, it was perfect weather for a football match.

The San Jose Earthquakes, who were also playing their first match, lined up against the Red and White Army. The game ended one apiece, or at least it should have. San Jose's Manni Hernandez opened the scoring in the third minute, before Vancouver's Neil Ellett levelled things just before half-time.

But in those days, the North American Soccer League didn't believe in draws. A penalty shoot-out was conducted, and the Californians were awarded the victory. The Caps would have to wait until the following Saturday to notch their first win, coming at Empire at the expense of the Denver Dynamos.

It's been forty years since that fateful day, and though much has changed, much remains the same. Vancouver, San Jose, and even Denver all field clubs in the top tier of North American football.

 11 members of the 1974 Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

11 members of the 1974 Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

Robert Italo Lenarduzzi, OBC, started that match, and today, he became the first Whitecap inducted into the Ring of Honour. Before the ceremony, his former number, five had already been out of circulation for many years, and it looks set to remain that way for years to come.

With all the pomp and the circumstance surrounding Vancouver's 40th anniversary, it would be easy to forget that there was an actual football match to play between Western Conference rivals.

Vancouver proved to be the better prepared, racing out to a three goal lead before the twentieth minute was even out. In the ninth minute, Sebastián Fernández threaded the ball to Kekuta Manneh, who dragged Brandon Barklage left, right, and then firing a shot straight though the San Jose defender's legs.

Manneh's strike beat goalkeeper Jon Busch, but not the post. It richocheted off the bottom left hand corner, finding its way back to Manneh, who immediately put it into the top right hand corner.

 Victor Bernardez trips Darren Mattocks in the box.

Victor Bernardez trips Darren Mattocks in the box.

In the 17th minute, Darren Mattocks made Victor Bernardez look like a fool. The 23-year old Jamaican forward toyed with his 31-year old counterpart, moving the ball as if he had it on a string. In the end, the only way the Honduran could stop Mattocks was to trip him in the box.

Not exactly a bright move with referee Drew Fischer standing a scant few yards away. The penalty kick was awarded, and seeing as Kenny Miller was still on the bench, Pedro Morales stepped up to take it. Busch went right, but Morales put it in the bottom left hand corner.

57 seconds later, Morales found the bottom left hand corner again, this time from the run of play. And while he did receive a caution for removing his shirt in celebration, who could blame the Chilean Designated Player? It's not as though he was already carrying a yellow card from earlier in the match like a certain Frenchman once did at Empire.

As well as the Whitecaps were playing in the first half, it was not perfect. Mattocks, who continues to justify his second overall selection in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, pulled up in the 27th minute. There was no one around him, but he clutched his left hamstring and immediately made a motion that he had to come off. The look of anguish on his face explained it all.

 Chris Wondolowski scores from the penalty spot to reduce Vancouver's lead to two goals.

Chris Wondolowski scores from the penalty spot to reduce Vancouver's lead to two goals.

As the clock ticked towards half time, Captain Jay DeMerit won a header by climbing on the shoulder of Alan Gordon. The referee signalled for another penalty kick, which was neatly slotted away by Chris Wondolowski.

The Earthquakes came out the better side in the second half, but were unable to capitalise on their chances. By the 80th minute, with the score still 3-1, Vancouver got a free kick on the edge of the box. Substitute Nicolás Mezquida, who had come on for Sebastián Fernández eleven minutes earlier, put it near the penalty spot. San Jose's Clarence Goodson was the first one to react, heading it into Jordan Stewart's outstretched elbow.

Now, under normal circumstances, the Whitecaps would have been awarded a penalty kick. Instead, play continued until the ball bounced from Stewart's elbow to Gershon Koffie's feet. The Ghanaian knocked it into the back of the net, at which point the referee controversially awarded San Jose a goal kick.

 Gershon Koffie can't believe that referee Drew Fischer awarded San Jose a goal kick after San Jose's Clarence Goodson handled the ball in the San Jose box.

Gershon Koffie can't believe that referee Drew Fischer awarded San Jose a goal kick after San Jose's Clarence Goodson handled the ball in the San Jose box.

Drew Fischer was in perfect position to see the handball, so he must have seen something that video replay failed to spot. The last time a referee made this kind of a decision at BC Place was when Ioannis Stavridis awarded Matías Laba a second yellow card for handling the ball after he had been fouled by Nick LaBrocca. Incidentally, Stavridis hasn't refereed a match since.

The aborted goal could have come back to haunt the Whitecaps, as in the first minute of stoppage time, Jay DeMerit made a poor clearance that landed at Chris Wondolowski's feet. Now, you don't just give the ball to a former Golden Boot winner and expect everything to be alright. Of course, Wondolowski buried it, making the last few minutes of stoppage time nervy.

But in the end, the Whitecaps emerged victorious, collecting a much needed three points. On Wednesday, they head to Toronto for the first leg of the semi-final, before heading to Columbus for a league match on Saturday. Click here to open our fullscreen slideshow.