Robbo’s decisive substitutions earn draw against Galaxy

April 22, 2014 at 8:01 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps, Whitecaps season 2014 | 1 Comment
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Vancouver Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson demonstrated he will not be intimidated by player reputations or seniority in last Saturday’s 2-2 draw against the Los Angeles Galaxy.  First of all he sat Nigel Reo-Coker on the bench even though the former English Premiership star has been proclaimed fit after his mysterious misadventure with a bike rack.  Then, after a very poor first half he pulled two players off the pitch at half-time and replaced them. Andy O’Brien got an early yellow and was in danger of being sent off; Russell Teibert simply was chasing the game and not catching up. Players hate to be subbed off at half time because it means the coach thinks you are playing poorly.

Pedro Morales, who came off mid-way through the second half, looked slow and appeared to be playing in pain. The subs Robinson brought on proved decisive, as Kekuta Manneh, Johnny Leveron and Erik Hurtado all did their bit to save what appeared to be a lost cause in the first half.

Men of the match: Mattocks and Manneh

Men of the match: Mattocks and Manneh

 

Despite the lack of players that would  be considered stars in todays game, the LA Galaxy bring a certain reputation as being Major League Soccer’s glamour team.  Even through David Beckham left two years ago, his stardust still seems to glitter on the team. The Galaxy have one of the league’s top managers, Bruce Arena, who, like a true Californian, never seems to lose his cool, and one of the league’s strongest overall squads. Lucky for Vancouver Whitecaps fans our Robbo matched wits with the elder Arena.

In the first half, the Galaxy passed the ball among themselves with ease, scored an exquisite goal, and soaked up whatever pressure the Whitecaps could muster with relative ease.  True enough, the Whitecaps could have scored an early goal after 20 minutes had Darren Mattocks led with his foot rather than his head when he tried to get to Kenny Miller’s low cross.  Ten minutes later Morales lashed a shot on the half-volley which hit Miller’s elbow in a crowded LA penalty area, only to draw yet another fine save from LA’s Panamanian Keeper Jaime Penedo. Consistent with his prior performances against Vancouver, Penedo seemed to have the Whitecap’s number.

Just a few minutes later LA were 1-0 up after a very sophisticated deep ball by Gargan was headed back across goal by Husidic to Ishizaki, who headed home from six yards, completely unopposed.  It was a magnificently executed play which left the entire Whitecaps defence scratching their heads in disbelief; they had been torn to shreds. As the first half wore on, it became clear the Whitecaps had no answer to the Galaxy’s game, and the frustration in the Vancouver crowd became palpable.

The Whitecaps emerged with Leveron and Manneh in the team, and O’Brien and Teibert relegated to the subs bench.  Manneh immediately brought an offensive threat to the game that Teibert simply did not have on the night.  Leveron looked solid and played like he had been there in the first half as well.  It still looked to be a night of frustration, as Robinson pulled Morales and put Hurtado in, a move which had me scratching my head.  It looked as though Robinson hoped to kill the Galaxy with speed.  It paid off.

Manneh: speed, accuracy, power

Manneh: speed, accuracy, power

Darren Mattocks put in another full shift in this match and worked hard all game, and it was his speed that won the Whitecap’s an equalizer.  Erik Hurtado failed to control a pass from Beitashour, but got enough of a touch on the ball to slow it down on the way to Penedo.  Mattocks charged in after what looked to everyone to be a lost cause, and managed to dig the ball out from in between LA’s last defender and Penedo.  Mattocks then found himself in sole possession of the ball to the right of LA’s goal at a very poor angle.  Like a true striker Mattocks put his head down and shot the ball towards goal.  It had to be a perfect shot, and it was, just barely squeaking between a charging Omar Gonzalves and the near post; it was 1-1.

Minutes later Galaxy manager Arena decided to bring the giant Canadian striker Rob Friend into the picture.  Omar Gonzales is a big guy, but Friend made Gonzales look like a skinny little kid.  He is the biggest footballer I have seen at BC Place. Friend acted as the target man for high balls into Vancouver’s box to either score goals or provide knock-downs for others. After only ten minutes it worked, as Omar Gonzales had all the time in the world to cross a high ball to Friend, who knocked the ball down to Robbie Keane. Keane took a touch and then fired home from close range. In was 2-1 for the Galaxy.  

Its in!  Manneh ties it

Its in! Manneh ties it

Kekuta Manneh ought to earn the designation “super-sub” for what he brings to the Whitecaps off of the bench.  Manneh is able to use his speed, strength and dribbling ability to destabilize the toughest defences.  He has demonstrated that he can be a real sharpshooter as well, particularly when he gets the ball off to the left of goal just outside the box (remember that strike last year in Colorado?).  Hurtado played the ball back to Beitashour who crossed the ball to the other side of the box where he found Mattocks, who drew three defenders towards him before releasing the ball to Manneh, who was left all on his own.  Manneh took a touch to set the ball up for a perfect shot which beat a diving Penedo to his left at the far post.  It was a suburb shot, combining both force and accuracy.  Having looked like they would lose this one, the Whitecaps had clawed themselves back into the game again in the 86th minute.  They nearly stole the match two minutes later when Manneh found Miller, who scooped his shot wide under heavy pressure from Landon Donovan.

The match that had the potential to allow either LA or Vancouver to shoot up the standings failed to do so; both teams remained in fifth (Whitecaps) and sixth (Galaxy) in the highly competitive Western Conference.  It looks like it is going to be a real dogfight to get a playoff spot this year. With this match Robinson proved he can coach with the best of them. If he keeps making intelligent decisions like he did in this match, we are in it with a real chance for a playoff spot.

   

Whitecaps youngsters tire of chasing Galaxy in loss

April 14, 2014 at 9:28 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps, Whitecaps season 2014 | Leave a comment
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The first leg of the home-and-away series verses the LA Galaxy featured an experimental line-up.  For the Los Angeles leg Carl Robinson was faced with a suspended Mathias Laba and a still-recovering Nigel Reo-Coker;  our key midfielders were unavailable.  Robinson decided to put a young squad out to rattle the Galaxy with speed and pressure.  It nearly worked.  

Robinson played Gershon Koffie and Russell Tiebert in front of the usual back four of Beitashour, DeMerit, Obrien and Harvey.  Kekuta Manneh started on the left side of midfield, alongside Morales in the middle and Fernandez on the right.  Darren Mattocks sprinted around alone up front.  

The Whitecaps chased and harried the Galaxy in the first half, so much so they were able to keep the Galaxy uncomfortable on the ball.  Though the Galaxy had the lion’s share of possession, the Whitecaps looked dangerous when Mattocks and Manneh were able to get some room to run with the ball.  The Whitecaps created clear chances but came up against their nemesis Jaime Penedo in the Galaxy goal.  Only two excellent saves by Penedo off of point blank shots by Kekuta Manneh kept the Galaxy on a clean sheet in the first half which they would eventually keep.   Darren Mattocks also had a good chance which the Panamanian saved.  

At half time it was anybody’s match, and the Whitecaps went to the dressing room looking like they would score at least one. 

The second half the Whitecaps reverted to traditional form which is expected of away matches against the Galaxy.  They were still sleeping from half time when they gave up a goal just one minute into the second half. Perhaps they were just tired from all of that running in the first half.

A long ball from the Galaxy half found Stefan Ishizaki to the right of goal.  DeMerit conceded possession and closed Ishizaki down.  Meanwhile, Robbie Keane moved into the penalty area in the space left by O’Brien, who retreated to support DeMerit.  Gershon Koffie saw Keane running, made an attempt to catch him, and then inexplicably gave up the chase at the top of the penalty box, allowing Keane to run into the box on O’Brien’s blind side unopposed.  Ishizaki curled the ball around DeMerit to find Keane who had the easiest of finishes.  It was a beautifully executed goal, the only problem was the ball ended up in the Whitecaps’ net.

Gershon Koffie has a lot of explaining to do for just giving up the chase of Keane, and for not communicating with O’Brien about Keane’s approach.  In his fourth season with the Whitecaps in MLS, Koffie still has a lot of maturing to do. At the level the Galaxy plays, one mistake is all they need to punish you. 

Robinson waited rather long to bring Kenny Miller into the match, and when he did so in the 70th minute he brought Erik Hurtado into the match at the same time for Morales and Fernandez, who had both long disappeared from this match.  Miller nearly stole one off of a clever corner kick by Mezquida but his near post header went straight at Penedo, who seems to have a supernatural touch when it comes to playing the Whitecaps.  Hurtado was completely useless as usual, and looked like the guy who shows up at the park for a kick-around who has never played soccer.  Why the Whitecaps keep this guy in the roster is beyond me; speed alone will not cut it in the MLS. 

Given Manneh’s earlier close misses in the first half, I was surprised to see Mezquida brought in for Manneh with 15 minutes left.  By this time Robinson seemed to be just rolling the dice and thinking beyond this game to the next match this coming Saturday.  

The loss was the Whitecaps’ second in a row, but the match showed some positive signs for the season.   The Whitecaps were unlucky not to score in this match, and really gave LA a game.  I expect we will see a dramatically different line-up when the Galaxy come to town for the return leg, With Laba and Reo-Coker involved from the start.  

I don’t know why but I feel positive that we will win.   

 

 

Dear Major League Soccer: no more Fieldturf teams, please!

April 9, 2014 at 7:41 pm | Posted in General Football, Major League Soccer, Whitecaps season 2014 | 8 Comments
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MLS is currently courting Atlanta, and media sources are saying the deal is as good as done. The proposal is for the proposed Atlanta MLS club to share a new stadium with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. This means another MLS club will play second fiddle to an NFL team in a stadium with Fieldturf, the playing surface of choice for NFL clubs.

Currently only four clubs in MLS play on Fieldturf: New England, Seattle, Portland and our own Vancouver Whitecaps. The mission for MLS should be to get these teams working on a long term plan to play on grass.

Fieldturf is especially bad for soccer in hot climates, as Toronto FC players found out before it was replaced with grass at BMO Field. Fieldturf is only playable when it is wet, and it quickly dries out in the hot sun. This makes for bad football. Gridiron football takes a heavy toll on Fieldturf, as does the painting and repainting of the lines.

Fieldturf also drives top players away from the league. Even top players who are in the league, such as Thierry Henry, refuse to play on the stuff.

Sadly, it appears the Atlanta franchise is all but granted. Don Garber should be insisting on soccer specific stadia with natural grass pitches. Anything less is simply not good enough.

Missed chances, poor refereeing sink Whitecaps against Colorado

April 6, 2014 at 8:51 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps, Whitecaps season 2014 | 6 Comments

It was one of those games.  The Vancouver Whitecaps met their match against a solid Colorado Rapids team that put up the best fight of the three teams who have come to BC Place this season.  It was all going so well until a fellow wearing a yellow shirt who does not know anything about the game turned the game and handed the match to Colorado.

An innocent man was executed

An innocent man was executed

 The Whitecaps started the same line-up as last match against Houston: Ousted in goal, Harvey, O’Brien, DeMerit and Beitashour at the back, Laba, Koffie, Teibert, and Morales in midfield and Miller and Mattocks up front.  The concussed Nigel Reo-Coker’s was nowhere to be seen. I placed my bet before the match that Darren Mattocks would score a goal.

Colorado presented as the typical MLS squad full of muscle-bound players who all looked six foot three and 215 pounds; this was a team that could play, however.  The Rapids showed they weren’t going to sit back and give the Whitecaps the ball from the start, as they dominated early possession with some crisp passing, most of it at the back and in midfield. Deshorn Brown looked fast, strong and dangerous up front for the Rapids.  The Whitecaps started the match flat, and Colorado looked distinctly the better team.  

Darren Mattocks looked doomed to continue his bad luck in front of goal in the first half.  He was put clear through by Morales but could not beat the charging Rapids’ goalkeeper Irwin when the two met one-on-one.  Mattocks finished a rebound off of a shot by Morales a bit later, but the goal was called back for offside.  Mattocks kept looking to the heavens to ask what he had to do to score (as did the rest of us!).

The first half finished 0-0 and it looked like a match that would be too close to call, probably to be decided by a single goal.

Mattocks finally scored...

Mattocks finally scored…

The Whitecaps came out in the second half looking brighter and more ambitious in the second half.  Morales had a crack at goal from 25 yards out which Irwin had to beat away.   Coach Robinson signalled his intent to win the match by substituting the defensive skills of Koffie for the footballing flash of the Uruguayan Fernandez after 57 minutes.  It was all looking good as captain Jay DeMerit and Andy O’Brien dominantly soaked up all of the pressure the Rapids could muster.  The game was turning in the Whitecaps favour.

The more offensive approach paid off when some wonderful head tennis between Fernandez, Mattocks and Miller led to Miller putting a ball through for the speedy Mattocks to run on to in the 67th minute. Mattocks beat his man easily in the sprint, and shot the ball over the approaching Irwin, who got a touch, but not enough to stop the ball going in.  Mattocks and the rest of us rejoiced at what was a well deserved and long awaited goal.

Only one minute later Morales had the chance to kill the game when Mattocks got through on a break on the left hand side of the pitch. Colorado was throwing men forward in an attempt to get the draw.  Russell Teibert recovered a defensive header and hit a high ball to Mattocks who squirmed away from his defender.  Mattocks, Morales and Miller charged down on Colorado’s goal with only one defender to beat.  Mattocks drew the sole defender over and then side footed the ball to Morales, who, with only the keeper to beat from 12 yards, placed a cross shot to the further post which Irwin got a touch on with his foot, putting the ball wide.  Had Morales scored it was 2-0 and we were on our way to a win and three points.  Sadly, missed opportunities by Mattocks and Morales in front of goal with only Irwin to beat cost us the match, with an assist by the referee.

Colorado lost possession of the ball deep in the Whitecaps end in the 77th minute; Matias Laba got possession of the ball and started a counter attack.  He was hunted down and fouled from behind by Nick LaBrocca, who used both arms to grab Laba by the shoulder, pulling him back from behind.  It was a blatant foul by a player trying to stop a counter attack.  If the referee was competent and knew anything about football, the foul would be called and a yellow card would be given to LaBrocca.  FIFA has encouraged yellow cards for players who break up counter attacks with fouls.  Referee Stavridis missed that memo and failed to blow a foul on LaBrocca.  Laba collapsed after being fouled and handled the ball, thinking he must have drawn a foul. The ref sent him off for a second yellow card.  There it was, another unbelievable call by a MLS referee which defied explanation. The performance by referee Stavridis was exceptionally bad, and turned the match in Colorado’s favour.  

Jose Mari wonder strike eludes Ousted

Jose Mari wonder strike eludes Ousted

Coach Robinson must have rued substituting Koffee for Fernandez earlier, because the Whitecaps were now down to ten men, and the back four now had absolutely no defensive midfielders to stop attacks coming through.  Small wonder that the Rapids’ Jose Mari had all of the time in the world to hit a wonder goal in the 79th minute on the half volley from exactly the spot Laba would have been had he still been on the pitch.  All credit to Jose Mari, it was an absolutely magnificent strike, and if we see a better one this season I will be surprised.

Just three minutes later and Jose Mari had struck another perfect curling shot past an out-of-position Ousted, whose view was blocked by his own defenders who were defending deep in the penalty area.  Ousted did not get anywhere near the ball as the shot easily beat him. Within the space of five minutes, the match went from the Whitecaps win column to the loss column.

The Whitecaps, to their credit, kept pushing for a goal down a man, winning a number of corners and free kicks in Colorado’s half. Unfortunately the Whitecaps had a poor night in dead ball situations, and there was no equalizer to be had.

Even if the referee changed the match with his farcical sending off of Laba, it was the inability of Mattocks and Morales to finish clear chances and the inability to capitalize on dead ball situations which cost the Whitecaps the match.  

What we needed in this match was Camilo.  I left BC Place with no doubt in my mind that if the Whitecaps had paid the little Brazilian what he was worth, we would have at least three more points than we do now.

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